Monday, 13 July 2020
Dear Fellow South African,
Last night, I addressed the nation on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in our country. What follows is an edited version of that address:
Our nation is confronted by the gravest crisis in the history of our democracy. For more than 120 days, we have succeeded in delaying the spread of a virus that is causing devastation across the globe.
But now, the surge in infections that we had been advised by our medical experts would come, has arrived. More than a quarter of a million South Africans have been infected with coronavirus, and we know that many more infections have gone undetected. We are now recording over 12,000 new cases every day.
Since the start of the outbreak in March, at least 4,079 people have died from COVID-19. What should concern us most is that a quarter of those who died passed away in the last week.
Like the massive cold fronts that sweep into our country from the South Atlantic at this time of year, there are few parts of the country that will remain untouched by the coronavirus. The coronavirus storm is far fiercer and more destructive than any we have known before. It is stretching our resources and our resolve to their limits.
The surge of infections that our experts and scientists predicted over 3 months ago has now arrived. It started in the Western Cape and is now underway in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
Yet, while infections rise exponentially, it is important to note that our case fatality rate of 1.5% is among the lowest in the world. This is compared to a global average case fatality rate of 4.4%. We owe the relatively low number of deaths in our country to the experience and dedication of our health professionals and the urgent measures we have taken to build the capacity of our health system.
Even as most of our people have taken action to prevent the spread of the virus, there are others who have not. There are some among us who ignore the regulations that have been passed to combat the disease.
In the midst of such a pandemic, getting into a taxi without a face mask, gathering to meet friends, attending parties or even visiting family, can too easily spread the virus and cost lives.This may be a disease that is caused by a virus, but it is spread by human conduct and behaviour.
Through our own actions – as individuals, as families, as communities – we can and we must change the course of this pandemic in our country. We need to wear a cloth mask that covers our nose and mouth whenever we leave home. We must continue to regularly wash our hands with soap and water or sanitiser. We must continue to clean and sanitise all surfaces in all public spaces. Most importantly, we must keep a safe distance – of at least 2 metres – from other people.
There is now emerging evidence that the virus may also be carried in tiny particles in the air in places that are crowded, closed or have poor air circulation. For this reason we must immediately improve the indoor environment of public places where the risk of infection is greatest.
Our decision to declare a nation-wide lockdown prevented a massive early surge of infections when our health services were less prepared, which would have resulted in a far greater loss of lives.
In the time that we had, we have taken important measures to strengthen our health response. We have conducted more than two million coronavirus tests and community health workers have done more than 20 million screenings.
We have made available almost 28,000 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients and have constructed functional field hospitals across the country. We now have over 37,000 quarantine beds in private and public facilities across the country, ready to isolate those who cannot do so at home.
We have procured and delivered millions of items of personal protective equipment to hospitals, clinics and schools across the country to protect our frontline workers. We have recruited and continue to recruit additional nurses, doctors and emergency health personnel.
We continue to make progress in our efforts to deal with COVID 19, but our greatest challenge still lies ahead. Across all provinces, we are working to further increase the number of general ward and critical beds available for COVID-19 patients.
Ward capacity is being freed up in a number of hospitals by delaying non-urgent care, the conversion of some areas of hospitals into additional ward space and the erection or expansion of field hospitals.
We are working to increase supplies of oxygen, ventilators and other equipment for those who will need critical care, including by diverting the supply of oxygen from other purposes. We are deploying digital technologies to strengthen the identification, tracing and isolation of contacts, and to provide support to those who test positive.
As we now approach the peak of infections, we need to take extra precautions and tighten existing measures to slow down the rate of transmission.
Regulations on the wearing of masks will be strengthened. Employers, shop owners and managers, public transport operators, and managers and owners of any other public building are now legally obliged to ensure that anyone entering their premises or vehicle must be wearing a mask.
Taxis undertaking local trips will now be permitted to increase their capacity to 100%, while long distance taxis will not be allowed to exceed 70% occupancy, on condition that new risk mitigation protocols related to masks, vehicle sanitising and open windows are followed.
There is now clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence and related trauma. We have therefore decided that in order to conserve hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect.
As an additional measure to reduce the pressure on hospitals, a curfew will be put in place between the hours of 9pm and 4am.
We are taking these measures fully aware that they impose unwelcome restrictions on people’s lives. They are, however, necessary to see us through the peak of the disease.
There is no way that we can avoid the coronavirus storm. But we can limit the damage that it can cause to our lives. As a nation we have come together to support each other, to provide comfort to those who are ill and to promote acceptance of people living with the virus.
Now, more than ever, we are responsible for the lives of those around us.
We will weather this storm. We will restore our country to health and to prosperity. We shall overcome.
With best wishes,
President Cyril RAMAPHOSA
13 July 2020
Monday, 29 June 2020
Dear Fellow South African,
The number of deaths from coronavirus recently passed the 2,000 mark. Among those who have lost their lives are health care workers, consummate professionals who cared for the ill, and were a support and comfort to those in hospital isolated from their families.
That the men and women carrying out this most noble and sacred of duties are themselves falling ill and dying is a devastating blow.
They are on the frontline of fighting this pandemic. They are working under great pressure and must carry the psychological strain of knowing they are at risk of contracting the virus. They are the true heroes and heroines of our battle against coronavirus.
We salute these brave South Africans who leave their homes, families and loved ones to report without fail for duty every day in clinics, hospitals and other health facilities. There they provide medical care, administrative support and other services like cleaning and catering.
Just as they perform what is their professional duty, we too have a duty to them and to their families. Their health and their safety must be paramount.
We honour them and uphold them as the men and women who have demonstrated they are prepared to risk their lives so that we may live.
For them to do their Herculean work they need our support as well as protection through the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).
With the support of the Solidarity Fund and donations from many individual South Africans, businesses, foundations and other governments, we have been able to procure personal protective equipment for these brave frontline workers. Where there have been shortages of PPE our hospitals are urgently attending to ensuring that they are available.
We know that access to PPE is not the only challenge our health care workers face. Across the country clinics and hospitals are facing staff shortages. This problem is being attended to.
To support the work that our frontline workers are performing around the country we are deploying Ministers and Deputy Ministers to each of the districts in the country to get a line of sight of specific challenges in these districts and to work with provincial health authorities.
We need to work together to safeguard the health of not just our frontline workers but the entire workforce.
There has already been sterling work done by unions in educating members around infection control and prevention and hygiene. They are also supporting the work of the Department of Employment and Labour in conducting workplace inspections to ensure health and safety protocols are in place for returning workers. Many of our trade unions are also providing coronavirus information to their members and employers are running awareness campaigns.
One of the challenges that has emerged in our country is the stigmatisation of people who have proven positive with coronavirus. As a society, we have a collective responsibility to stamp out the stigmatisation of people infected with the coronavirus. There have been disturbing reports of individuals being ostracised from their communities and of communities protesting against coronavirus patients being admitted to local hospitals and clinics. This must stop.
Just as we came together to promote acceptance of people living with HIV and stood firm against victimisation, we must show understanding, tolerance, kindness, empathy and compassion for those who are infected with this virus and for their families.
It is said that this stigmatisation is driven by fear of contracting the disease and lack of understanding. The best way to overcome our instinctive fear of illness and contagion is to observe the hygiene protocols that are in place. The fear of infection is well-founded and real. At the same time, we know what we have to do to protect ourselves and others.
We know what causes the virus and what we can do to protect ourselves from becoming infected. We know we have to maintain social distancing, to self-isolate if we have come into contact with those infected and to present to a hospital if we have symptoms.
We must continue to be guided by facts and not rumours.
The time when anyone could say they do not know anyone who is infected or affected by coronavirus has long passed. Now, more than ever, our friends, families, colleagues and neighbours need our empathy and support.
In the days, weeks and months that lie ahead, we will at times find ourselves despondent and fearful as we see the numbers of people infected and dying continue to rise. It may be that things have gotten worse, but we are certain that they will get better. Our scientists and medical advisers told us that the rate of infections will go up as we move towards our peak. But it will certainly come down.
We pay tribute to the health care workers who lost their lives caring for the sick. In their memory, let us keep ourselves and our fellow citizens safe by playing our part.
We shall overcome this virus and rebuild our society. We have seen darker times and we have prevailed.
Let us spare neither strength nor courage as we work together to save lives.
With best wishes,
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Monday, 06 July 2020
Dear Fellow South African,
For those fortunate enough to have an elderly parent or grandparent still alive, not being able to spend time with them has been one of the most difficult parts of the lockdown.
For millions of senior citizens, social activities like meeting friends and family and attending religious services and stokvel and burial society meetings are the mainstay of their lives.
Because of social distancing regulations, most of these activities have been curtailed, potentially leaving them feeling socially isolated and lonely. And leaving their loved ones anxious for their wellbeing.
The reality however is that in keeping our distance from our elderly parents and grandparents at this time we could be saving their lives.
Coronavirus can infect anyone, but older people are among those at highest risk of getting severely ill and possibly dying. Sadly, there have been a number of coronavirus outbreaks at old age homes and care centres, resulting in a number of deaths.
In addition, data released by the Department of Health indicates that people with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, renal disease, asthma and chronic respiratory disease are more vulnerable to developing severe complications and dying from coronavirus.
According to new research published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, a third of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 had at least one co-morbidity.
This is a significant concern in a country such as ours that also has high prevalence of HIV and tuberculosis, the leading cause of natural deaths in South Africa last year.
Additionally, more than 4.5 million South Africans have diabetes, a figure that has doubled since 2017. In the Western Cape alone, diabetes is a co-morbidity in over half of all COVID-19 deaths.
In a number of our provinces, including Gauteng and Western Cape, testing is being offered to people with co-morbidities such as diabetes whether they show coronavirus symptoms or not. This smart approach to screening and testing is part of our effort to limit infections among those most vulnerable.
We will continue to be led by scientific evidence and adapt our strategies where necessary.
As part of the national effort to contain coronavirus, protecting the general population from becoming infected must be matched by efforts to protect people who are at greater risk.
Throughout the nationwide lockdown period, we have taken measures to ensure that those who rely on chronic medication or treatment are able to visit health facilities.
The Department of Social Development has set dietary standards on the food provided to communities during lockdown to ensure they of nutritional value, which is particularly important when managing diabetes. Companies can play their part by keeping basic food prices down, which means that people don’t need to seek out cheap processed foods of poor nutritional value.
Among the many cases being made for the National Health Insurance is that we will be able to mobilise the necessary resources to overcome the burden of these non-communicable diseases and improve the health outcomes of all our people, not just those who can afford to pay.
Until we have overcome this pandemic, we all have to play it safe, for ourselves and those around us.
Difficult though it may be, we should not expose our elderly mothers and fathers to the virus through social visits. Let us keep in touch with them by phone or video messaging.
If they live with us, let us ensure we observe proper hygiene at all times by washing and sanitising our hands. Frequently touched surfaces, including equipment used by our parents and grandparents like walkers and canes, should be frequently cleaned.
We should limit our shared spaces where possible and wear a mask when around our elderly relatives. At the same time we must be led by common sense and not isolate elderly or sick relatives at a time when they need us most.
People with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension should be extra cautious. They should observe social distancing, stay home if possible and stay away from crowded places. Like everyone else, they should practice good hygiene and continue to take their medication.
One of the lessons from this pandemic is that we need a holistic approach to health. Anecdotal evidence suggests many of our people have used the lockdown period to make positive lifestyle changes like doing more exercise or quitting smoking. Such developments should be welcomed. If some of us have become healthier during the lockdown, we should continue in this vein.
Reducing the burden of lifestyle-related diseases on our health system is ultimately in the best interests of our health, our economy and our own personal finances.
While the COVID-19 fatality rate is low in South Africa compared to the rest of the world, the rising number of infections is a caution against complacency.
If we follow all the prevention measures we will be able to protect ourselves. We will also, through our everyday actions, protect and keep safe those who are most vulnerable.
Let us remain cautious. Let us remain vigilant. Let us stay safe.
With best wishes,
President Cyril RAMAPHOSA
Monday, 22 June 2020
Dear Fellow South African,
More than 100 days after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa and after two months of a nation-wide lockdown, our economy is in the throes of the anticipated fallout from this global crisis. The predictions of businesses shutting down and jobs being lost are materialising.
Last week a number of companies announced plans to retrench staff. From aviation to construction, from entertainment and leisure to hospitality, companies have indicated their intention to retrench staff because of heavy losses incurred over the past three months. In other cases, businesses are closing permanently. Small businesses whose turnover has been wiped out will be even harder hit.
As a country, we have all been keenly aware of the consequences of shutting down economic activity during the lockdown that was absolutely critical to save the lives of our people.
South Africa is not alone. In Italy, the UK, the US, Germany, India, China and nearly every country that had imposed some form of lockdown, jobs have been lost or hours of workers reduced. It is being spoken of as a ‘job loss tsunami’.
In April the International Labour Organisation forecast there would be around 305 million job losses worldwide. The situation of workers in the informal economy is even worse, with an estimated 1.6 billion workers in danger of losing their livelihoods.
For a country such as ours, which was already facing an unemployment crisis and weak economic growth, difficult decisions and difficult days lie ahead. We would urge that the difficult decisions to be taken are taken with care and with due regard to balancing the sustainability of companies and the livelihoods of workers. It is important that whatever is done is underpinned by ensuring a just transition to all concerned.
The measures we put in place to protect local businesses during the lockdown in the form of loans, tax relief, debt restructuring, extended credit lines and retail rental exemptions are continuing to provide vital support. Temporary social assistance to poor households is gathering pace and providing vital relief. However, these measures can only go so far.
This week the Minister of Finance will table a revised national budget in Parliament. Revenue has plummeted and difficult decisions will be made in the coming weeks and months as we seek to reprioritise our programmes, manage public spending and scale back on projects where necessary.
The economic hardship that has been forced on a number of companies in the private sector will be forced on a number of entities in the public sector as well. The government, business, labour and civil society will have to deepen their collaboration as never before in driving the national recovery effort.
As more economic activity resumes, struggling businesses will be ‘playing catch-up’ to recoup lost productivity and revenue for some time to come. As much as we seek to protect current jobs, we also need to create new ones, and attract new, greater levels of investment. It is imperative that we open avenues for self-employment and entrepreneurship, especially for young people.
In the past two years the business community has made commitments to invest in various businesses in our country. It is our hope that our business community and international investors will honour the investment commitments made in a number of forums such as the South Africa Investment Conference.
Coronavirus has resulted in companies around the world re-evaluating their investment and expansion plans, and we must anticipate that some of these commitments may be scaled back and even cancelled. South Africa still has great investment opportunities and assets to invest in.
We remain optimistic that as we gradually return to normalcy, and as we forge ahead with the economic reform measures embarked upon earlier this year, that the growing investment levels we were seeing before coronavirus hit will slowly but surely return.
The announcement last week by Amazon that it is on a drive to hire up to 3,000 South Africans for a variety of positions is a welcome signal, as is the announcement that a local energy storage company Metair has secured a number of contracts from the Ford Motor Company, and that the pan-African cloud and data solutions entity Africa Data Centres has acquired a hi-tech data centre in Johannesburg.
Tomorrow the inaugural Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium of South Africa will take place. A number of catalytic infrastructure projects in water, transportation, energy, digital infrastructure, human settlements and agriculture will be showcased. Project sponsorship has been sought from the private sector, multilateral development banks, development finance institutions, asset managers and commercial banks.
Through the delivery of sustainable and fit-for-purpose infrastructure we are able to meet our developmental aspirations and revive economic activity, while also creating jobs at scale at a time when they are needed most.
This infrastructure investment forms an integral part of our recovery effort. This will be bolstered by the reduction of interest rates by the South African Reserve Bank, support extended to businesses during the pandemic and regulatory relief for the financial sector, among others.
The job creation efforts we began in early 2020, such as the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, and the existing ones such as the Expanded Public Works Programme and Community Works Programme, will be scaled up. The job-creation initiatives and programmes the private sector began before coronavirus must resume, and new ones should be designed and implemented.
There are tough times ahead. There are no quick-fixes and we have to be realistic about our prospects, especially about the time it will take for our economy to recover. Even the advanced economies will contract substantially because of COVID-19 and it will take a long time for economic output to return to pre-pandemic levels.
At the same time we remain optimistic.
We will keep trying, because we understand that despite the hardship it has caused, the lockdown was necessary and has saved lives. No price can be put on human life.
Let us put shoulder to the wheel and turn this adversity into opportunity. Let us reimagine and repurpose our economy and put it firmly on a solid and sustainable path.
With best wishes,
President Cyril RAMAPHOSA