COVID-19 sees SA declare national state of disaster

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South African president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on Sunday announcing a range of measures to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has so far infected 61 and showed the first signs of internal transmission.

In a live television broadcast after a special cabinet meeting, Ramaphosa said the outbreak, first detected on March 5, could have a significant and “potentially lasting” impact on a struggling economy, already in recession.

Measures to be taken include travel bans to countries such as Italy, Germany, China and the United States. Government will prohibit gatherings of more than 100 people and cancel large events and celebrations, he said.

“It is concerning we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus. This situation calls for an extraordinary response, there can be no half measures,” Ramaphosa said.

He said government cancelled visas to visitors from high-risk countries from Sunday, with previously granted visas revoked.

“Any foreign national who visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa,” he said, adding South Africans visiting targeted countries would be subject to testing and quarantine when returning home.

First detected two weeks ago with one positive result, the number of cases rose to 61 by Sunday, a mushrooming rate mirroring the rapid spread of the virus worldwide.

The health ministry conducted 1 476 tests, with no fatalities. On Sunday, a top South African university, Wits in the economic heartland Gauteng, instructed 350 students to immediately self-quarantine for two weeks after a classmate tested positive for COVID-19.

Besides health impacts, Ramaphosa said the economy would not be spared as exports decline in key markets, including China, and the labour intensive tourism sector suffers.

“Cabinet is in the process of finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate the expected impact of COVID-19 on the economy,” he said.