South Africa, Africa’s most industrialised economy and a nation of 57 million people, will to go into a nationwide lockdown for 21 days starting on Thursday to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the president says.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the measures on Tuesday in response to the increase of COVID-19 cases to 402.
South Africa will be the third country in Africa to close down all but essential economic activity, after Rwanda and Tunisia.
South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped by 47 per cent on Monday from the day before with 128 new cases, increasing worries of exponential growth and making it the country with the most cases in Africa, taking over from Egypt.
More than half of South Africa’s total cases are in Gauteng province. It includes Johannesburg, the country’s largest city with 5.7 million people, and the capital, Pretoria, with 2.4 million, according to figures released by the Health Ministry.
South Africa has not registered a known death from COVID-19.
Officials have said the majority of people infected are travellers from Europe and other countries, although the number of cases that are locally transmitted is rising.
South Africa’s crowded working class residential areas and packed commuter trains and minivan taxis are expected to contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Mr Ramaphosa said the lockdown would be enforced by police and the military starting at midnight Thursday.
“We need to urgently and dramatically escalate our response,” he said in an address to the nation.
“This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, which has a a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and high levels of poverty and malnutrition.”
All South Africans will be required to stay home, except for those working in essential services, including healthcare providers, workers in the security industry and those involved in producing and distributing food, power and medical products, the president said.
Individuals will be allowed to leave home only “under strictly controlled circumstances” to get goods such as medical supplies and food, he said. Banks, supermarkets and petrol stations will be allowed to continue operating.
Mr Ramaphosa also said economic aid will be offered to the poorest South Africans and small businesses.
Some of the country’s banks have announced three-month loan payment holidays for small businesses and students.
The government of the west African nation of Senegal declared a state of emergency due to the virus on Monday night. It has imposed a curfew, restricted travel between regions, closed public spaces and banned gatherings, among other actions.
President Macky Sall said the move was needed in the nation of nearly 16 million where 79 people have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 1560 are being monitored.
At least 43 of Africa’s 54 countries have reported cases.
Zimbabwe and Nigeria reported their first virus-related deaths Monday. Nigeria, which has a population of 100 million people, has 36 cases. Zimbabwe, with 16 million people, has two cases.
Africa’s 1.3 billion people might be hard-hit by COVID-19 as health experts warn of the spread in large cities with unsanitary conditions and inadequate health facilities.
Madagascar on Monday ordered lockdowns of its two largest cities, the capital of Antananarivo, with 1.6 million people, and Toamasina, with more than 300,000.