South Africans brace for 21-day lockdown as virus cases rise

South Africans brace for 21-day lockdown as virus cases rise

Agency News

As confirmed cases top 550, President Cyril Ramaphosa announces sweeping measures in a bid to stem outbreak.

People across South Africa are bracing for a 21-day lockdown after the government announced sweeping new measures to tackle the spread of the new coronavirus.

"From midnight on Thursday, March 26 until midnight on Thursday, April 16, all South Africans will have to stay at home," President Cyril Ramaphosa said late on Monday in a televised address to the nation.

"This is a decisive measure to save the lives of South Africans from infections and to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people," he added.

On Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases leapt again to 554 - just over a week ago, the figure was 62. The surge has raised alarms that a wider outbreak would put under serious stress the country's already strained healthcare system in one of the world's most unequal societies.

Ramaphosa stressed that people will still be able to leave their homes to seek medical care, buy food or collect a social grant.

All shops and businesses are to close, with the exemption of pharmacies, laboratories, banks, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, supermarkets, petrol stations and healthcare providers.

Health workers, emergency personnel and security services will be allowed to work, while soldiers will be deployed to patrol the streets in support of the police.