Infantry to be police support backbone during coronavirus lockdown

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Armed infantry soldiers from at least eight SA Army Infantry Formation battalions will be deployed on the streets of South Africa’s cities, towns, townships and informal settlements to assist police during the lockdown stages of the national effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.

The soldiers will carry the standard issue R4 rifle and, according to a warning order on the deployment issued on Sunday 22 March, ammunition will be issued against “a signature in accordance with the approved scale”. The order notes “deployed troops must carry one magazine with 30 rounds issued from unit stock”. If ammunition is expended, the soldier or soldiers responsible must report on an incident form including circumstances and quantities used.

As far as rules of engagement are concerned soldiers deployed under the general regulations of Operation Chariot will be instructed that “the principles of minimum force must always be executed”.

Infantry units tasked to support police in executing regulations set down by President Cyril Ramaphosa, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, will each, with the exception of 21 SAI, supply a company of about 140 soldiers until the current lockdown ends on 16 April. 21 SAI will have two companies deployed: one in Johannesburg and the other in Pretoria. On Monday, soldiers were seen on the streets of Johannesburg as part of their mobilisation process.

Other infantry battalions in the deployment are 4 SAI Battalion (Mpumalanga), 121 SAI (Free State), 14 SAI (Eastern Cape), 9 SAI (Western Cape), 8 SAI (Northern Cape) and 10 SAI (North West) – each battalion will supply a company of combat ready soldiers at level two (to conduct secondary tasks). The North West deployment will in all probability be augmented by 2 SAI and Potchefstroom-based SAASIC (SA Army Specialist Infantry Capability). This is because the unit is supporting police in Western Cape on Operation Lockdown (an independent police crime combatting task established before the coronavirus made itself known in China). The deployment is scheduled to finish at month-end.

The coronavirus lockdown starts on midnight (00h00) on Thursday, 26 March and until or unless further announcements from Ramaphosa, is effective until the same time on Thursday, 16 April.

The lockdown announcement comes a week after the President declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national state of disaster. The nationwide lockdown comes as South Africa saw a surge in confirmed cases rising from 274 on Sunday to 402 by Monday 23 March.

“The nation-wide lockdown is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission across society,” said the President during a televised address.

Exempt from this lockdown are health workers in the public and private sectors, emergency personnel, security services (such as police, traffic officers, military medical personnel, soldiers) and others necessary to respond to COVID-19.

It will include those involved in production, distribution and supply of food and basic goods, essential banking services, maintenance of power, water and telecommunications services, laboratory services and those part of provision of medical and hygiene products.

Individuals will not be allowed to leave home except under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or to collect social grants.

As the country fights to contain the spread, temporary shelters that meet the necessary hygiene standards will be identified for homeless people.

With the exception of pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers, shops and businesses will be closed.

“Companies essential to the production and transport of food, basic goods and medical supplies will remain open,” said the President.