17 June 2020
It is now just over 100 days since the first case of coronavirus was identified in South Africa. For 100 days we have been living in the shadow of one of the greatest threats to global health in over 100 years.
The disease, and the measures we have taken to fight it, have caused massive disruption in the lives of our people, bringing our economy to a standstill and threatening the livelihoods of millions.
So far, it has cost our nation the lives of 1,674 people.
In the midst of this life-destroying pandemic, we are greatly encouraged by news this week of a breakthrough in the treatment of COVID-19.
A study by the University of Oxford in Britain found that the drug dexamethasone – which is also manufactured here in South Africa by one of our pharmaceutical companies and of which there is an ample supply – reduced deaths among patients on ventilation by a third.
The Department of Health and the Ministerial Advisory Committee has recommended that dexamethasone can be considered for use on patients on ventilators and on oxygen supply.
We believe that this will improve our management of the disease among those who are most severely affected.
Since the start of the outbreak there have been 80,412 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa.
Of these, 44,331 people – or around 55% – have recovered.
That means there are currently 34,407 active cases in the country. Yet, as we know, the cost in human lives could have been far higher.
We took a decision early in the development of the disease in South Africa to restrict international travel and gatherings with the declaration of a National State of Disaster and subsequently imposed a nation-wide lockdown to slow the transmission of the virus.
In doing so, we aimed to ‘flatten the curve’ of infection so that our health system would be better able to care for the large number of people who would be needing care.
As a result of the decisive action we took then – and particularly through your cooperation, determination and sacrifice as a nation – we succeeded in delaying the spread of the virus.
One of the ways of measuring the rate of transmission is what is called ‘doubling time’. This is the number of days it takes for the total number of cases to double.
In the three weeks prior to the implementation of the nation-wide lockdown, the number of infections was doubling every 2 days.
During level 5 of the lockdown, this doubling time increased to 15 days, which meant that it took much longer for the virus to spread.
The doubling time has been at around 12 days during levels 4 and 3.
We used the time during the lockdown to prepare and enhance our health system and put in place public health measures to minimise infections.
The work to strengthen our health system – which includes establishing over 100 quarantine centres, increasing the number of intensive care units and beds in field hospitals and identifying additional health personnel – continues across all our provinces.
But while we have used the lockdown to start to flatten the curve, this task is far from complete.
Even after 100 days, we are still near the beginning of this epidemic and it will remain with us for many more months, possibly years.
The task of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is like running a marathon race and not a sprint, and we have therefore had to shape our response according to that reality.
Over the last few weeks, the number of infections has been rising rapidly.
Nearly a third of all confirmed cases have been recorded in the last week alone and more than half of all confirmed cases have been recorded over the last two weeks.
The Western Cape has so far been hardest hit by the disease, accounting for about 60% of infections across the country.
While community transmission has remained low across most of the country for the past 9 weeks, it has been rising rapidly in that province.
There are indications that transmission in the Eastern Cape is now starting to rise and may just be a few weeks behind the Western Cape.
For many of us, what was once a distant disease is now coming much closer.
More and more of us now know someone who is infected, whether at work or school or in our church, mosque, temple or synagogue.
It may be one of our friends or a member of our family.
Many of you are concerned about the increase in infections and anxious for the safety and well-being of your loved ones.
You are worried about the possibility of getting infected yourself, in a taxi or on a bus, at work or at the shops, at school or university, visiting a clinic or hospital.
These concerns are understandable and reasonable.
Because as the country gradually opens up, as we resume more activities, the risk of infection inevitably increases.
Yet, even though the risk of infection is greater, it is by no means inevitable.
Through our behaviour as individuals we can reduce the likelihood that we will get infected or infect others. And it is through our personal and collective actions that we can continue to delay the rate of infection across society.
Studies show that wearing a cloth mask or similar piece of clothing that covers both your nose and mouth at all times when one is in public is one of those measures that reduces the rate of transmission of the virus.
Millions of South Africans – including small children – are now wearing cloth masks whenever they leave home.
There are, however, some South Africans who have not yet taken up the practice of wearing masks.
We would like to encourage everyone in our country to wear masks when they are in public. Let us make sure that we do not share masks and that we wash our masks thoroughly in soap and water after each use.
The wearing of masks, however, is no substitute for regular washing of hands with soap and water or sanitiser and maintaining a distance of at least 1.5 metres from other people.
Let us all remember not to touch our faces with unwashed hands, and clean and sanitise surfaces regularly.
We should also keep in mind that social distancing is still one of the most effective ways of reducing the spread of the virus.
These basic practices are becoming even more important now as we ease the lockdown and enter a new phase in our coronavirus response.
These are still the best ways of containing the spread of the virus.
Our medical experts have advised that interventions such as setting up fumigation tunnels and body spraying should not be used as they have no proven benefit and may be harmful.
From the outset, we knew that extreme measures were needed to slow community transmission.
But we also knew that a nation-wide lockdown could not be sustained indefinitely.
With the move to alert level 3 from the 1st of June, our prevention response is now largely focused on the simple everyday things that each of us can do to protect ourselves and our communities.
It is about each of us taking personal responsibility, wherever we are and whoever we are, for curbing the spread of the disease.
The power to defeat coronavirus is in our hands.
Our response is now also more focused, on hotspot areas with the greatest rate of infection and sending multi-disciplinary health teams to contain outbreaks and ensure those with the infection get the necessary care.
At the same time, we have massively increased screening for coronavirus symptoms throughout the country, at every workplace, school, university, shopping centre, place of worship, taxi rank or other public space where people gather.
Like many other countries, South Africa has been affected by the global shortage of coronavirus test kits and other materials.
We have therefore had to become more targeted in our testing, prioritising patients in hospitals, health care workers, vulnerable people like the elderly and hotspot areas.
Although the situation is improving, we continue to experience delays in testing.
This has severe implications for effectively managing patients with the infection as well as tracing the contacts of infected people.
We are therefore using every avenue available to source the supplies we need and to increase our testing capacity and improve the turnaround time.
Among the initiatives that we have pursued together with other countries on our continent is the ground-breaking Africa Medical Supplies Portal.
This is a single continental marketplace where African countries can access critical medical supplies, such as test kits, from suppliers and manufacturers in Africa and around the world in the necessary quantities and at competitive prices.
This platform will complement the work that is being done to ensure that we have the medical equipment, personal protective equipment and hospital facilities to manage the anticipated increase in COVID-19 patients.
Fellow South Africans,
The coronavirus pandemic is not only a global health crisis. It is also a global economic crisis of ever-increasing proportion.
No country, no industry and no person is unaffected.
Here in South Africa, the pandemic has severely disrupted the livelihoods of millions of people.
As you are aware many businesses that stopped operating on the 27th of March, when the lockdown came into effect, have not yet been able to re-open under current restrictions.
These include large companies with many thousands of employees and many more smaller companies with just a handful of employees.
This means that there are businesses that have not earned any revenue and individuals who have not had any income for over 80 days.
Even with the measures we put in place to support companies, employees and poor households as part of the R500 billion relief package, there is a limit to how long these businesses can be closed.
When I announced that the country would be moving to alert level 3 from the 1st of June, I said that we would be giving consideration to re-opening other sectors of the economy if the necessary safety precautions could be put in place and maintained.
Following further discussions with industry representatives on stringent prevention protocols, and after advice from scientists and consultation with Premiers, Cabinet has decided to ease restrictions on certain other economic activities.
These activities include:
- Restaurants for ‘sit-down’ meals
- Accredited and licensed accommodation, with the exception of home sharing
accommodation like AirBnB.
- Conferences and meetings for business purposes and in line with restrictions on public gatherings.
- Cinemas and theatres, to be aligned to limitations on the gathering of people.
- Personal care services, including hairdressers and beauty services
- Non-contact sports such as golf, tennis, cricket and others. Contact sports will be allowed only for training and modified activities with restricted use of facilities.
In each instance, specific and stringent safety requirements have been agreed on and will need to be put in place before a business can re-open, and protocols will need to be strictly adhered to for businesses to remain open.
Announcements will be made in due course to detail these measures and indicate the date from which these activities will be permitted.
We have taken this decision with due care and seriousness, appreciating the risks associated with each activity and the measures needed to manage those risks.
Altogether, these industries employed over 500,000 people before the lockdown. We have had to think about these people and those who depend on them for their
Through the easing of the lockdown we are continuing to balance our overriding objective of saving lives and preserving livelihoods.
It is important to remember that this is a global pandemic and that most countries are facing similar challenges and must resolve similar dilemmas.
We are therefore working closely with international agencies and other countries in responding to the coronavirus.
As Chair of the African Union, we are integrally involved in forging a common approach across the continent, ensuring that we mobilise resources and develop strategies to ensure that no country is left behind.
There are currently over 250,000 confirmed cases in Africa and there have been more than 6,700 deaths.
This is relatively low compared to the global number of cases – which has now passed 8 million – largely because African countries acted swiftly to implement national lockdowns.
However, we can expect infections in Africa to rise as countries ease restrictions in the face of severe economic pressures and we are working together as a continent to meet that challenge.
It has been particularly important for us to open up personal care services, because this is an industry that predominantly employs women.
The last three months have been particularly difficult for the millions of women who work as hairdressers, in spas, as therapists and technicians.
Many of these are businesses are owned by women and a source of income in the informal sector.
Giving women the necessary support to become financially independent is the greatest of priorities, especially now.
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country – the killing of women and children by the men of our country.
As a man, as a husband and as a father, I am appalled at what is no less than a war being waged against the women and children of our country.
At a time when the pandemic has left us all feeling vulnerable and uncertain, violence is being unleashed on women and children with a brutality that defies comprehension.
These rapists and killers walk among us. They are in our communities.
They are our fathers, our brothers, our sons and our friends; violent men with utterly no regard for the sanctity of human life.
Over the past few weeks no fewer than 21 women and children have been murdered. Their killers thought they could silence them.
But we will not forget them and we will speak for them where they cannot.
We will speak for Tshegofatso Pule, Naledi Phangindawo, Nompumelelo Tshaka, Nomfazi Gabada, Nwabisa Mgwandela, Altecia Kortjie and Lindelwa Peni, all young women who were killed by men.
We will speak for the 89-year-old grandmother who was killed in an old age home in Queenstown, the 79-year-old grandmother who was killed in Brakpan and the elderly woman who was raped in KwaSwayimane in KwaZulu-Natal.
We will speak for the innocent souls of Tshegofatso Pule’s unborn daughter who had already been given a name, six-year-old Raynecia Kotjie and the six-year-old child found dead in the veld in KwaZulu-Natal.
They are not just statistics. They have names and they had families and friends. This evening, our thoughts and prayers are with them.
I want to commend the South African Police Service for their excellent work in arresting almost all of the alleged perpetrators.
As these suspects make bail applications this week, I have the utmost confidence that our courts will send the strongest of signals that such violence has no place in society.
At a joint sitting of Parliament in September last year, I announced an Emergency Response Plan to combat gender-based violence and femicide and that R1.6 billion in government funding would be reprioritised to support its implementation until the end of the financial
We now have a National Strategic Plan to guide our country’s national effort against gender- based violence.
During the lockdown period we have ensured that survivors of gender-based violence have access to support and services, including the GBV hotline, shelters and centres providing support to victims of sexual violence.
Since December last year, 10 government-owned buildings have been handed over to the Department of Social Development to be used as shelters, addressing one of the biggest challenges facing survivors who want to leave abusive relationships.
Over the last 18 months, we have made demonstrable progress in broadening access to support for survivors.
Thirteen regional courts have been upgraded into sexual offences courts.
To support the work of law-enforcement, 7,000 evidence collection kits have been distributed regularly to every police station in the country and there are now over 1,000 survivor friendly rooms at police stations.
Many police, prosecutors, magistrates and policymakers have undergone sensitivity and awareness training, and over 3,000 government employees who work with children and mentally disabled persons have been checked against the National Register of Sex Offenders.
Legislative amendments have been prepared around, among other things, minimum sentencing in cases of gender-based violence, bail conditions for suspects, and greater protection for women who are victims of intimate partner violence.
I urge our lawmakers in Parliament to process them without delay.
Our courts have been firm in dealing with cases of gender-based violence even during the lockdown period, handing down life sentences and multiple life sentences to perpetrators.
I want to assure the women and children of South Africa that our criminal justice system will remain focused on gender-based violence cases and that we can expect more arrests and more prosecutions against perpetrators to follow.
The perpetrators of violence against women and children must receive sentences that fit the horrific crimes they commit.
It is deeply disturbing that the spike in crimes against women and children has coincided with the easing of the coronavirus lockdown.
According to the police, violent crime – especially murders and attempted murders – has increased since alert level 3 took effect on 1 June.
Cases of abuse of women and children have also increased dramatically. We need to ask some very difficult questions of ourselves as a society.
In particular, we need to examine the effect of alcohol abuse not only on levels of violence, but also on road accidents and reckless behaviour.
Several international and domestic studies show clear linkages between alcohol abuse and gender-based violence.
Of course, it is not alcohol that rapes or kills a woman or a child. Rather, it is the actions of violent men.
But if alcohol intoxication is contributing to these crimes, then it must be addressed with urgency.
We need to draw the lessons from this lockdown and decide how we can protect our society from the abuse of alcohol.
Certainly, we need to provide greater support to people with drinking problems, including through rehabilitation and treatment.
We need to encourage responsible drinking, especially among young people.
We need to be tough on liquor outlets that violate the terms of their licenses and who sell alcohol to those under-age.
But we will also need to look at further, more drastic measures to curb the abuse of alcohol. Ultimately, the success of our fight to end gender-based violence will require the
involvement and support of our entire society.
If we are serious about ending these crimes, we cannot remain silent any longer. These perpetrators are known to us and our communities.
By looking away, by discouraging victims from laying charges, by shaming women for their lifestyle choices or their style of dress, we become complicit in these crimes.
I once again call on every single South African listening this evening to consider the consequence of their silence.
As a country, we find ourselves in the midst of not one, but two, devastating epidemics. Although very different in their nature and cause, they can both be overcome – if we work together, if we each take personal responsibility for our actions and if we each take care of each other.
The road ahead will be long and difficult. The task of recovery will be considerable.
But if there is anything that we have learnt in the last 100 days, it is that we are a resilient, resourceful and determined people.
We shall overcome.
May God bless South Africa and protect her people. I thank you.
16 June 2020
I would like to greet all the young men and women of South Africa on this day, when we celebrate the brave youth of 1976, young people of our country who defied apartheid and fought for our freedom.
It is an opportunity to focus on matters that confront the young people of today, to reflect on the progress that we have made in empowering young people and to determine the tasks that lie ahead.
The coronavirus pandemic has had major health, economic and social effects on the lives of young people and old people.
It has made worse already slow economic growth in our country. It has made businesses suffer, led to job losses and affected education and study.
Our capacity as a country to withstand the shocks caused by COVID-19 has been largely determined by our social circumstances and it has brought to the fore the deep inequalities that persist in our country until today.
We can no longer for example have a situation where young people in rural areas do not have access to technology to enable them to work and to study.
This pandemic provides us with an opportunity to inject new perspectives into how we can turn our economy around, but also how we can really imagine our very society.
Young people must rise to the challenge of leading our recovery after the Coronavirus. We have young entrepreneurs and business owners who through their innovative ideas have been able to change their communities for the better and create new employment opportunities.
We have outstanding young people, in the sciences and research, in sports, in entertainment and other fields who have represented our country on global platforms and stages.
The voices of young people in movements such as Fees Must Fall and protests against gender-based violence have been catalysts for change.
The remarkable potential in our young people across all sectors and spaces is undeniable and young people from time immemorial have always been driven by changing the world, by changing the way things are done, by changing the way we live, by changing unjust systems, by bringing about justice and bringing about a new world.
The moment that we now confront post COVID-19 calls young people across the length and the breadth of our country to be part of that change and to be change agents.
It also calls on young people to rebuild our economy and make a difference in the lives of our communities.
It also calls on young people to be the young people who are going to underpin everything they do with the best of values, who are going to be rooted in principle in creating a South Africa that we can all be proud of.
I once again affirm our commitment as government to supporting young people in every stage of life.
Through our social partnerships and youth-focused programmes, we are committed to unlocking the full potential of the young people of our country.
And as a government our commitment is irrevocable. We will continue to support our young people from cradle right through to young adulthood. We are providing education and training opportunities so that the youth get the skills that are needed by our economy.
Through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, we are working to ensure that poverty is no longer a barrier to accessing education.
Your social status should no longer be a barrier to being educated and becoming skilled because we recognise that a country that invests in its youth is clearly on the road to prosperity and that is where we want to be.
Through the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention we have to create new pathways into employment for our youth, ensure that they gain the right skills and are able to start their own businesses and get into good jobs as well.
Through the National Youth Service young people are able to contribute to their communities and this builds an ethos of positive and engaged citizenship where young people become activists for good, activists for changing the lives of our people.
Whether it is through the work of the National Youth Development Agency, through the Expanded Public Works Programme and the Community Works Programme or through the Small Enterprise Finance Agency, we are broadening the frontiers of opportunity for our young people every day.
On this day that we pay tribute to the courage, the resilience and optimism of the youth of 1976, we also salute today's generation who are determined, who are focused, who are resolute, but who also have great hopes about their own future and the future of our country.
Though the challenges we face are immense our young people have proven time and time again that their immense optimism and desire to make a change is very strong.
So I want to wish all our young people a happy Youth Day and call on you the young people of our country once again to join us in the immense task of rebuilding South Africa and to making this country a place of peace, of equality and prosperity for all.
A country that you as the young people of our country will engage in building, because as the people of our country you are the change agents that this country has been waiting for.
You must become the change that you want to be, you must become the vehicles of transformation, the vehicles of innovation, the vehicles of creating this great country of ours, South Africa.
So I thank you on this day and wish you the very best. May you grow in strength and determination as you build our country going forward.
Thank you very much.
Acclaimed HIV researcher, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, who found that a topical gel could stop many women from catching the virus, has been awarded one of France's top science prizes.
Abdool Karim won the €500 000 (about R9 577 995) Christophe Merieux Prize for her work for the Durban-based Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa), which she heads.
Caprisa is run by the University of KwaZulu-Natal's medical school.
The Institut de France, which runs the prize, praised her work tracing "the cycle of transmission" of the virus, with "young women generally getting it from men 10 years their senior". They also hailed her work on vaccines for the virus and of how to treat people who have tuberculosis and are also HIV-positive.
Abdool Karim is best known for a study that found that a gel of the anti-retroviral drug Tenofovir was effective in reducing the risk of women catching HIV and genital herpes during sex.
Abdool Karim, 60, has previously won her homeland's highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe, as well as a prestigious L'Oral-Unesco for Women in Science Award.
Her husband, fellow epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim, is the Government's main scientific adviser on COVID-19. She also sits on the board of experts tackling the pandemic.
The award was due to be presented in Paris, but the ceremony was cancelled because of the Coronavirus.
– Source: www.news24.com
Monday, 15 June 2020
Dear Fellow South African,
The words of Frantz Fanon that ‘each generation must discover its mission’ come to mind every time I have an opportunity to speak with young South Africans.
No matter where they live and no matter what they do, they each have a burning desire to change the world.
While they certainly want to improve their own lives, they also want to achieve a better society and a better world. They see themselves as agents for fundamental transformation.
Throughout history young people have been a driving force for change. In just the last few decades, young people have waged numerous struggles against injustice, from the 1968 student uprising in Paris, to the anti-war movement in the United States in the 1960s, to the anti-colonial struggle in many African and Asian countries, to the fight against apartheid, to the Arab Spring.
Most recently, young people have been at the forefront of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that has gained global support in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the United States.
Over the past week, activists around the world have also been demanding the removal of symbols that glorify the barbarity and violence of the slave trade and colonialism.
At an Oxford University demonstration last week a protestor carried a placard with the words ‘Rhodes must Fall’, the rallying cry of students in our own country five years ago.
Young people across the world have found common cause. They are tearing down of statues and symbols of racism, demanding the decolonisation of educational curricula, and calling for institutions to address racism and social exclusion.
And so, as we pay tribute to the generation of 1976 on this Youth Day, we also salute the youth of post-apartheid South Africa, the worthy inheritors of this noble legacy.
The mission of 1976 generation was to dismantle bantu education; that of today’s youth is to take forward the project of national reconciliation and transformation.
In time to come it will be said that this year, 2020, marked the start of a new epoch in human history.
Not only has coronavirus had a momentous impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, it has also shaken up the global social order.
The manner in which the pandemic has taken hold has been a reminder of the interconnectedness of the human race and of the deep inequalities that exist between countries and within countries.
The pandemic presents an opportunity to ‘reset’ a world that is characterised by crass materialism, selfishness and self-absorption not just on the part of individuals but whole societies.
Young people are telling us that the essential values of integrity, compassion and solidarity must be the hallmarks of the new society that will emerge, and that they are determined to be the champions of this new, better world.
In the discussions I have had with young people during this Youth Month, I have said that we should never underestimate the power of an idea, because ideas can and have changed the world. Ideas have spurred human progress and they are what will enable us to chart a new path in the post-coronavirus era.
These young people have turned their ideas into action. They have not let a lack of resources hinder them. They have carved a niche for themselves in a number of sectors from high-tech to environmental sustainability.
They are determined to succeed on their own merits, to not depend on handouts, and once they have ‘made it’ to help their peers.
Through programmes like the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative, the National Youth Service and many more we want to support this country’s young people to see their ideas through from incubation to opening the doors of their businesses.
Youth unemployment is the greatest challenge we face and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation.
Now more than ever we will look to the innovative and pioneering spirit of our youth to come up with solutions to the unemployment crisis that benefit them, their communities and society.
At the same time, I challenge our country’s youth to craft and design programmes that will enable us to meet our developmental goals.
In 1961, revolutionary Cuba sent legions of young student volunteers into the mountains and villages to construct schools, teach literacy and train new educators. It is still held up as one of the most successful literacy campaigns in modern history.
Our young people must develop social upliftment initiatives and they must lead them.
Just as they took up the struggle for equality in higher education, the considerable energies of our youth must also be brought to bear to fight for equitable access to health care, for the transformation of land ownership and, most importantly, for gender justice.
Like all South Africans, I have been deeply disturbed by a surge over the last few days in the murder of young women at the hands of men. These are shocking acts of inhumanity that have no place in our society.
Youth-led civic activism, awareness raising and peer counselling are vital tools in our efforts to eradicate gender-based violence from society. At the same time, we must strengthen our justice system, ensuring that perpetrators are brought to book, bail and parole conditions are tightened and that those sentenced to life spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
While this needs society-wide action, I call on young men in particular to take up the struggle against gender-based violence. Unless we end the war that is being waged against South African women, the dream of a new society will remain elusive.
Those of us who were part of student movements during the apartheid era are often asked what we think of the young people of today. There is a temptation to retreat into nostalgia about ‘the glory days’ of student politics and youth struggle, never to be replicated.
But just as the youth of yesteryear defined their mission, today’s youth have defined theirs.
South African youth of 2020 more than meet the high standard set by their predecessors. They are optimistic, resilient and courageous, often in the face of the harshest of circumstances.
They are a source of inspiration and hope. Through their actions, they are building a world that is more just, equal, sustainable and at peace.
I wish all the young people of South Africa a meaningful and inspiring Youth Day.
With best wishes,
President Cyril RAMAPHOSA
Monday, 08 June 2020
Dear Fellow South African,
Most people will have noticed that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa has been rising fast. More than a half of all cases since the start of the outbreak were recorded in the last two weeks.
During the course of this coming week, we can expect that the total number of cases will pass the 50,000 mark. Sadly, we are also likely to record the 1,000th death from this devastating disease.
Like many South Africans, I too have been worried as I watch these figures keep rising. While these numbers are broadly in line with what the various models had projected, there is a big difference between looking at a graph on a piece of paper and seeing real people becoming infected, some getting ill and some dying.
We can draw some comfort from the knowledge that the nation-wide lockdown in achieving the objective we had of delaying the spread of the virus and that it gave us time to prepare our health facilities and interventions for the expected spike in infections.
The lockdown was not only necessary but it has also given us all time to adjust to living with the virus. Various surveys show that South Africans have come to know a lot about the virus and are taking the necessary precautions to prevent its spread. I have been pleased to realise that a high percentage of South Africans wash their hands regularly, avoid contact with other people and wear face masks whenever they go out in public. I should however say that social distancing in public places is still a major challenge for us. We need to focus our attention on ensuring that we adhere to social distancing practices because it is through close contact between people that the virus will be spread.
It is pleasing to realise that businesses, government departments, schools and other institutions have used this time to get themselves ready for a gradual return to more-or-less normal activity. They have been putting stringent health protocols in place, thoroughly cleaning and sanitising their premises and are ensuring that people are regularly screened for COVID-19 symptoms. This is all necessary to ensure that we save lives and protect livelihoods.
Last Friday, I spent the day in Cape Town to get a better sense of the work that is being done to manage the disease there. The Western Cape is the epicentre of coronavirus infections in South Africa, with around two-thirds of all confirmed cases.
I was impressed by the preparations the Western Cape is making to contain infections and to ensure that there are enough beds, staff and medical supplies to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of people needing hospitalisation. They are increasing the number of beds by setting up field hospitals, including at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Yet, even with the preparations they have made, they will need more bed capacity as the disease reaches its peak. They need help from outside the province, including additional funding and health personnel.
This provides the clearest evidence yet that we are correct to treat coronavirus as a national disaster. We must mobilise and deploy all the necessary resources we have in the country. We need an integrated strategy that brings together the national, provincial and local spheres of government.
After the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape is the province with the fastest-growing proportion of people infected. And we know that some of the infections in the province were the result of people travelling from the Western Cape. What this tells us is that no part of the country is an island and that all South Africans, no matter where they live, need to remain vigilant and prepared. It is for this reason also that people are not permitted to travel between provinces while the country is at alert level 3, except under specific circumstances and with the necessary permits.
As we watch the number of infections rise further – probably far faster than most of us imagined – we should be concerned, but not alarmed. That is because we have the ability, as individuals, communities and as a country, to limit the impact of the disease on our people.
As we have shown, we can slow the spread of the disease, and we should continue to take all measures possible to continue to flatten the infection curve. Most importantly, we must be prepared to reduce the number of deaths by implementing the necessary health measures.
Working with our social partners, we in government are working hard to prepare for the increase of infections. We have been buying personal protection equipment from across the world and supporting local companies to produce them here. We have been improving the infrastructure in hospitals and setting up temporary hospitals and finding more beds for COVID-19 patients. We have deployed tens of thousands of community health workers to detect cases in areas where people live. We are intensifying the programme of screening, testing, contact tracing and, where necessary, isolation.
Although we have made progress, we still need to do much more in the coming weeks to meet the expected demand.
You can also do much to prepare as individuals and families. Already many have made the effort to learn as much as they can about the disease, how to identify the symptoms and how to avoid getting infected or infecting others. Many people have thought about how they can go to school or work safely, and how they can change their shopping behaviour or how they worship to minimise the risk of infection.
Each household should look at how they can protect elderly people and those with underlying conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, TB or HIV. Do plan for the possibility that someone in the family may become infected and whether you will be able to isolate them from family members until they are better. If not, find out where the closest government quarantine site is. You should also plan ahead for what to do if someone gets sick.
Over the coming weeks, as we watch the coronavirus infections continue to rise, we must remember that we are not helpless.
And we should remember one simple, but fundamental, message: Don’t be alarmed. Be prepared.
With best wishes,
President Cyril Ramaphosa