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NEWS ARTICLE

13 May 2020

Statement by president Cyril Ramaphosa on South Africa’s response to the coronavirus pandemic

This week, our country reached a sad moment in the progression of the coronavirus

pandemic, as we recorded our 219th death from the disease.

Every life lost is a tragedy.

These 219 people who passed away had families, they had dependents, friends and

colleagues.

Their lives were cut short by a virus that has caused human and economic devastation

across the world.

In recording and reporting on the daily figures of new infections, deaths and recoveries ––

we can too easily lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with human lives.

This coronavirus is taking a heavy toll not only on the health of our people, but also on our

people’s ability to earn a living, to feed themselves and their families, to learn and to

develop, and to enjoy many of the basic freedoms that we daily take for granted.

This evening, let us keep in our thoughts and prayers all those who have been infected by

the coronavirus, all those who have lost loved ones, and also those who have endured – and

continue to endure – great hardship because of the pandemic.

It is nearly 7 weeks since we implemented a nation-wide lockdown.

During this time, South Africans have demonstrated great courage, resilience and

responsibility.

I once again thank you for the sacrifices you have made thus far.

I would like to say, as I have said before, that despite its duration and its severity, the

lockdown was absolutely necessary.

Without the lockdown the number of coronavirus infections would have soared

uncontrollably, our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands

more South Africans would have died.

From the very beginning, our response has been guided by advice from world-leading

experts from our own country and across the globe.

We have also benefited from the guidance from the World Health Organisation.

The experiences that other nations have been through have also given us invaluable

insights.

There have been several projections about the possible path the disease would have taken

without our swift and decisive action.

As more data has become available, these projections have been updated and refined.

The best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have

taken, at least 80,000 South Africans could have been infected by now.

And the death toll could have been at least 8 times higher than it is.

As it stands, there are 219 people in South Africa who have succumbed to this disease.

By contrast, at a similar stage in the progression of the disease, the United States had

recorded over 22,000 deaths and the United Kingdom over 19,000 deaths.

We should never forget that the purpose of the lockdown was to delay the spread of the

virus and prevent a huge surge of infections.

So far, we have been successful in the manner we as South Africans have responded and

dealt with this virus.

The percentage of cases identified out of all the tests conducted – what is known as the

positivity rate – has remained low and stable.

The level of confirmed infections in South Africa is around 181 people per million of the

population.

By contrast, countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Singapore

have between 2,400 and 4,600 coronavirus cases per million people.

It is significant that out of the 12,074 confirmed cases in South Africa, we have recorded

4,745 recoveries.

By delaying the spread of the disease, we have been able to strengthen the capacity of our

health system and to put in place wide-ranging public health programmes to better manage

the inevitable increase in infections.

We now have nearly 25,000 additional beds available for quarantine.

We have been able to source and produce substantial quantities of personal protective

equipment for health workers, vital medical equipment and other supplies.

Using the valuable time which the lockdown gave us, we have managed to significantly

expand our screening and testing programme.

In all, our field workers have now screened over 9 million people, and we have conducted

nearly 370,000 coronavirus tests.

This is the largest and most extensive public health mobilisation in the history of our country.

It has been made possible by the hard work and dedication of thousands of community

workers, nurses, doctors and other health workers.

They made enormous sacrifices to ensure the success of the lockdown.

By answering the call to stay at home and stay safe, you, the people of South Africa, have

helped us to save many lives.

As we have strengthened our public health response, we have introduced several vital

measures to support the companies, workers and households that have been severely

affected by the lockdown.

We have introduced an economic and social relief package worth over R500 billion to help

companies in distress, to save jobs and to provide some income to informal workers and

poor households.

Since it was established, the special COVID-19 relief scheme of the Unemployment

Insurance Fund has paid out over R11 billion to 2 million employees employed by over

160,000 companies in distress.

This will help to keep companies afloat and save millions of jobs.

The various funds that we established to provide support for small businesses, including the

initiatives of the Department of Small Business Development, the Department of Tourism,

the Industrial Development Corporation and the South African Future Trust, have provided

direct assistance to over 27,000 enterprises.

As of today, the R200 billion COVID-19 Loan Guarantee Scheme, which is guaranteed by

the government, has begun to process applications from small and medium-sized

businesses.

At the beginning of this month, government paid out an additional R5 billion to social grant

recipients to assist poor households at a time when other sources of income have been

disrupted.

We have opened applications for the special COVID-19 grant of R350 a month for

unemployed South Africans who receive no other form of assistance from government.

By the close of business today, some 3 million South Africans had already applied for this

assistance.

These temporary measures will be in place for six months.

We will spare no effort to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are supported and protected

during this difficult time.

The scale of the measures we have taken, including tax relief and interventions by the South

African Reserve Bank, is historic.

The Solidarity Fund, which was set up to support the coronavirus response, has raised

around R2.7 billion in commitments from over 175,000 individuals and more than 1,500

companies and foundations.

We are grateful to the many governments and organisations that continue to generously

support our coronavirus response.

In addition to those that I have previously recognised, I wish to express our appreciation to

the government and the people of the United States for the donation of 1,000 ventilators.

I also want to recognise the commitment of the ELMA Group of Foundations of R2 billion to

mitigate the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable communities in Africa.

This includes an immediate contribution of R250 million to South Africa’s Solidarity Fund.

We are determined that our response matches the proportions of the crisis and helps to

ensure that the foundations of our economy are protected.

There have been very disturbing reports of increased levels of gender-based violence since

the lockdown started.

The scourge of gender-based violence continues to stalk our country as the men of our

country declared war on the women.

We have developed an emergency pathway for survivors to ensure that the victims of

gender-based violence are assisted.

One of the interventions we have made is to ensure lockdown regulations be structured in a

manner that a woman can leave her home to report abuse without the fear of a fine,

intimidation or further violence.

Now, two months after we declared a national state of disaster, we are ready to shift to a

new phase in our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the first of May, we moved to Alert Level 4 and began the phased easing of the national

lockdown.

This was in line with our risk-adjusted strategy through which we sought to slow down the

rate of infection and flatten the curve.

We are now preparing for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the

economy.

I will repeat what I have said before: if we lift the lockdown too abruptly and too quickly, we

risk a rapid and unmanageable surge in infections.

We will therefore continue to proceed cautiously, informed by the best available evidence

and guided by the advice of local and international experts.

Our goal is to steadily increase economic activity while putting measures in place to reduce

the transmission of the virus and provide adequate care for those who become infected and

need treatment.

When I last addressed you, I outlined the five level alert system that we have introduced to

guide this process.

At the time, the country was at alert level 5, which has the most stringent restrictions on

movement and economic activity.

Alert level 4 – which is the current level across the country – retains most of the lockdown

regulations but permits the gradual opening up of certain parts of the economy.

Alert levels 3 to 1 allow a progressively greater relaxation of restrictions.

As I indicated then, some areas of the country may be designated at a particular alert level,

while others may be designated at other levels.

This would be done according to the rate of infection in an area and the state of readiness

and the capacity of its health facilities to cope with treating infected people.

For now, infections are mostly concentrated in a few metropolitan municipalities and districts

in the country.

it is important that we maintain stringent restrictions in these areas and restrict travel out of

these areas to parts of the country with lower rates of infection.

We will immediately begin a process of consultation with relevant stakeholders on a

proposal that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3, but that

those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on level 4.

We will make further announcements after the completion of the consultations

In the coming days, we will also be announcing certain changes to level 4 regulations to

expand permitted business activities in the retail space and ecommerce and reduce

restrictions on exercise.

Some have questioned whether our approach in dealing with the coronavirus has been at

the expense of the livelihoods of our people.

Our strategic approach has been based on saving lives and preserving livelihoods.

Our key objective has always been to slow down the infection rate through a number of

interventions in our coronavirus prevention toolbox.

Each of these prevention measures are crucial and non-negotiable. They are:

- Lockdown (to achieve extreme social distancing)

- Social distancing

- Adopting hand hygiene practices by washing hands regularly with water and soap or

sanitiser

- Cough etiquette including coughing into your elbow or a tissue

- Wearing cloth masks whenever you are in public places

- Use of personal protection equipment by all health workers

- Frequent cleaning of the work environment and other public spaces

- Symptom screening

- Testing, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing

It is in the implementation of all these preventative measures that we will overcome this

disease.

The success of our efforts to limit transmission of the virus depends on finding those who

are infected as early as possible, tracing their contacts and isolating them so they cannot

pass on the virus to others.

Our door-to-door screening campaign in vulnerable communities across the country resulted

in over 100,000 people being referred for testing.

This gave us a good indication of the extent of the infection among the population, but we

now need a screening and testing programme that is targeted to areas where people are

more likely to be infected.

This will involve the identification of infection hotspots using a combination of technology,

surveillance data and epidemiological mapping, enabling the rapid deployment of dedicated

screening and testing teams to these areas.

Those found to be positive should either self-isolate or be isolated in suitable and

independently inspected facilities.

Most importantly, this new phase will require each of us to change our own behaviour in

profound ways.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in our thinking and our way of life.

We need to take personal responsibility for our own health and the health of others.

Let us remember that although the lockdown has slowed down the rate of transmission, the

coronavirus is very much still present – and will be present among us for a long time to

come.

We have been warned that infections will inevitably rise as the lockdown measures are

eased, as has happened in many countries.

We also know that the coronavirus will continue to be a global health threat for some time to

come, and that the fight against COVID-19 needs to become part of our daily lives.

Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we

make in our behaviour.

As restrictions are eased, we will need to observe social distancing even more carefully,

wear face masks whenever we leave home, wash hands regularly with soap and water or

sanitiser, and avoid contact with other people.

I have been encouraged that so many people are wearing face masks in public since the

start of Alert Level 4.

We will need to re-organise workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public

places to limit transmission.

We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and meeting that

minimise opportunities for the virus to spread.

It is our actions now that will determine whether the advantage we gained through the

lockdown can be sustained.

It is our actions now – individually and together – that will determine whether the great

sacrifices that people have made over these last two months will ultimately save the lives of

thousands of South Africans and spare our country from the huge devastation that this

pandemic can cause.

The transition to the next phase of the coronavirus response will in many ways be more

difficult than the present one.

The risk of infection outbreaks will increase as more people return to work.

This calls for vigilance, responsibility and discipline from all of us.

My fellow South Africans,

Over the last 7 weeks, you have been asked to endure much and to sacrifice much.

On more than one occasion, I have stood before you and asked you to accept stringent

restrictions on your daily lives, knowing that these will bring great hardship.

You have heeded these calls, firmly convinced that these measures are necessary for the

health and the well-being – indeed the survival – of our young nation.

In return for everything that is being asked of you, there are a few fundamental things that

you ask of us, your leaders.

And that is why we must acknowledge that as we have confronted this unprecedented

challenge, there may have been times when we have fallen short of your expectations.

Some of the actions we have taken have been unclear, some have been contradictory and

some have been poorly explained.

Implementation has sometimes been slow and enforcement has sometimes been

inconsistent and too harsh.

This evening, I want to reaffirm my commitment and the commitment of the government I

lead to take whatever action is necessary to safeguard the life, the dignity and the interests

of the South African people.

The last time I addressed you, I said that we will soon be embarking on the third phase of

our economic response to the coronavirus crisis by outlining a clear strategy for economic

recovery.

Cabinet is seized with this issue and will be announced when the work has been completed.

We are determined and committed:

to ensure that all government decisions are taken in good faith, that they are reasonable and

based on empirical evidence, and that they do not cause more harm than good;

to be transparent, to take the nation into confidence and to do so regularly;

to continue to be forthright on the state of the pandemic. You want to know when things are

bad, and be told when they could get worse;

to continue to engage and consult with you;

to ensure that we continue to mobilise every resource at our disposal to support the most

vulnerable, and to give the greatest support to those most in need; and,

to make sure that the funds that are dedicated to our coronavirus response are not wasted

and are not stolen.

Above all, I pledge once again to ensure that your rights are respected and upheld,

especially by those who have been entrusted with this responsibility.

As your President, as this government, we are firmly committed to meeting the expectations

you rightly have of us.

Where we have disappointed, we will continue to make amends.

Where we make mistakes, we will continue to correct them.

Our collective struggles over the past months have taught us much about ourselves and

about each other.

We have also learnt a lot about this virus.

Although there may have been differences and disagreements, there has also been

kindness, empathy and compassion.

There has been courage and solidarity.

A very different South Africa and world awaits us.

The greatest test will be our willingness to embrace change.

Let us rise to meet this challenge.

Let us stand as one family and one nation to build a new and stronger society.

The days before us will be difficult.

But we will draw strength from what we have achieved.

We should recall the words spoken by President Nelson Mandela 20 years ago when our

country was being devastated by another pandemic.

He said:

“In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/AIDS, we have to rise above our differences

and combine our efforts to save our people.

“History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now.”

As I end, let me offer the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered at a difficult time in

the life of his own country:

The state of this nation is good

The heart of this nation is sound

The spirit of this nation is strong

The faith of this nation is eternal.

May God bless South Africa and protect her people.

I thank you.