SA marks one year since first lockdown

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South Africa is marking one year since its first coronavirus lockdown.  At the time, the number of coronavirus cases was fast approaching a thousand, at 927 with 218 cases reported on 26 March.

Announcing the lockdown which was set to begin from midnight on March 26  to midnight on April 16, President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised the importance of curbing the spread of the virus.

“It is clear from the development of the disease in other countries and from our own modelling that immediate and swift extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions in our country. Our fundamental task at this moment is to contain the spread of the disease,“ he said.

The announcement came as citizens were still familiarising themselves with the COVID-19 health precautions including the washing of hands frequently, not shaking hands, covering of the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with the tissue or flexed elbow.

It had come days after the national state of disaster was declared on March 15.

The declaration put in place measures to curb the spread of the virus. These included the partial closure of borders, the closing of schools, banning visits to prisons, and the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people.

President Cyril Ramaphosa declares a national state of disaster: 

Despite the measures, the number of cases was increasing and President Ramaphosa was concerned that this was going to stretch the country’s health resources.

“Our analysis of the progress of the epidemic informs us that we need to urgently and dramatically escalate our response.  The next few days are crucial, without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands. This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours which has a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB and high levels of poverty and malnutrition,” he said.

All South Africans except essential personnel were to stay at home: 

SANDF members deployed 

To enforce the new measures, 20 000 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) were deployed.

Alexandra township became one of the problematic areas as residents continued to gather on the streets despite the call to stay indoors.

Law enforcement officials had their hands full, trying to keep the residents away from the streets. 

Several arrests were made:

The death of Alexandra resident Collins Khosa at the hands of the soldiers sparked public outrage, over what many said, was SANDF’s use of excessive force.

A probe, by the military, confirmed these concerns by South Africans and found that the soldiers acted improperly, irregularly, and contravened the SANDF code of conduct during the tragedy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa assured the country that those responsible for Khosa’s death will be held accountable: 

Socio-economic effect of the lockdown 

Some groups of society, including informal traders, struggled to cope with the lockdown measures.  For many staying at home meant that there was no food on the table.

With the relaxation of regulations in the second week of the lockdown, they were allowed to trade.

However, it was not business as usual:

Status quo, a year later 

Earlier this year, the Department of Health announced a vaccination programme.  The aim of the programme is to vaccinate 67% of South Africa’s population to reach herd immunity.

So far, more than 150 000 health workers have been vaccinated and government hopes to inoculate 15 million healthcare workers by the end of next month.

While the programme has brought about optimism for some health workers, the government is concerned that the process is going at a slower phase than anticipated.

Last week, Deputy President David Mabuza said that the supply of vaccinations has become a stumbling block.

South Africa remains on lockdown level one with an imminent threat of the third wave as the Easter holidays approach.

Citizens have been urged to continue adhering to COVID-19 regulations: