It has been four months since the nationwide lockdown was imposed in the country in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). When it was announced, South Africa only had 927 cases and no deaths.
Since then, much has changed. South Africa is now one of the most highly infected countries in the world.
Public schools have had to close again while tobacco products remain off-limits and liquor sales have been banned a second time.
Four months ago, South Africa seemed well poised to deal with what was ravaging countries around the world.
On 26 March, the country imposed one of the strictest lockdowns anywhere.
Then life, as we’ve known it, stopped. This seemed to have had the desired result as infection numbers started slowing down.
South Africa’s strategy elicited praise from many quarters, including the World Health Organisation (WHO). The country seemed to be in control. It even extended the hard lockdown by a further two weeks.
As the country tried to manage the spread, the economy started haemorrhaging. At the beginning of May, restrictions were eased. There was even a seven-day window period to allow inter-provincial travel to enable some economic activity back.
It was not long before the numbers started climbing again.
When the easing of the lockdown first occurred, COVID-19 cases stood at 5 600 with 83 deaths.
Three weeks later on 24 May, the President announced a further easing of restrictions, trying to save lives and livelihoods. At this point, 22 000 cases and 429 deaths had been recorded.
With more pressure from various quarters, further relaxations were announced on 17 June. However, infections and fatalities continued to rise. The country reported more than 80 000 cases, closing in on the original epicentre, China.
Deaths had breached the 1 600 mark. The Western Cape was the country’s epicentre.
In the video below, Chair of Social Security at the Wits School of Governance Professor Alex van den Heever discusses sectors prioritised by the easing of the lockdown.
Closing of schools
By this time, some school grades had been phased in, with more to follow. However, the WHO raised the alarm as the country became one of the fastest rising in infections. On 12 July, South Africa had recorded more than 264 000 cases and close to 4 000 deaths.
The WHO said it would offer support to South Africa, which currently accounts for approximately half of Africa’s total infections.
A few days ago, the President was forced to close public schools as cases exponentially rose.
The country now is the fifth most infections in the world and is currently the fourth largest contributor.
Analyst Sandile Swana weighs in on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to close down schools:
Has the lockdown achieved what it set out to do?
Four months in, there are many questions. Has the lockdown achieved what it set out to do? Can the country cope with the huge surge in COVID-19 cases it is currently experiencing? Is the country losing the fight many had thought it had under control?
South Africa is fast approaching 450 000 cases and 7 000 deaths and no one knows for certain when the country will reach its peak.
If the Western Cape has peaked, Gauteng is probably going through it, so is the Eastern Cape. KwaZulu-Natal is now rising fast, and other provinces are recording huge increases.
The country will have to weather the storm as its people have repeatedly been told by the President: “it’s in your hands”.
South Africans are still encouraged to practice social distancing, wearing of masks and washing hands.
In the video below, Professor Alex van den Heever reflects on the nationwide lockdown: