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South Africans Brace For 21-Day Lock-down As Virus Cases Rise

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As confirmed cases top 550, President Cyril Ramaphosa announces sweeping measures in a bid to stem outbreak.

People across South Africa are bracing for a 21-day lockdown after the government announced sweeping new measures to tackle the spread of the new coronavirus.

“From midnight on Thursday, March 26 until midnight on Thursday, April 16, all South Africans will have to stay at home,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said late on Monday in a televised address to the nation.

“This is a decisive measure to save lives of South Africans from infections and to save lives of hundreds of thousands of our people,” he added.

Ramaphosa stressed that people will still be able to leave their homes to seek medical care, buy food or collect a social grant.

All shops and businesses are to close, with the exemption of pharmacies, laboratories, banks, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, supermarkets, petrol stations and healthcare providers.

Health workers, emergency personnel and security services will be allowed to work, while soldiers will be deployed to patrol the streets in support of the police.

By imposing the lockdown, the government hopes to avoid the spread of the coronavirus in crowded townships and informal settlements where access to clean water for hand-washing can be scarce and self-quarantine practices are hard to apply.

“While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and on our economy, the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater,” the South African president said.

After reporting its first case of COVID-19 on March 5, the country now has the highest number of infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Siviwe Gwarube, a member of parliament with the main opposition party, Democratic Alliance, stressed that strict measures were needed in the fight against the pandemic.

After reporting its first case of COVID-19 on March 5, the country now has the highest number of infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shoppers queue to stock up on groceries during the nationwide lockdown [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

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