What politicians say about Lockdown extension in South Africa
South Africa’s national coronavirus lockdown is into its second week, but uncertainty remains on its impact and whether it will be extended.
The 21-day lockdown is aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and ensuring the health system is not overloaded.
After the lockdown started on 27 March, the number of new daily coronavirus cases plummeted in the country.
On 27 March, there were 243 new cases. In the week following the lockdown, the daily number of new cases ranged between 17 and 93.
What stands out about the number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa is that it does not follow the same trend as in other countries.
In the United States, Spain, and Italy, there was a consistent increase in cases until they reached a plateau.
None of these countries showed a rapid increase in cases and then a sudden decline – as observed in South Africa.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize acknowledged this, and said they expected between 4,000 and 5,000 cases locally by around 2 April.
He put the lower-than-expected infection rate down to closing South Africa’s borders quickly, quarantining of inbound travellers, enforcing a lockdown, and preventing mass gatherings.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the infection rate would have definitely been a lot higher if there was no lockdown.
Lockdown’s effectiveness uncertain
Throughout the lockdown the number of new cases reported remained below 100 per day. Although this is good news, it is not clear whether it is a reflection that the lockdown is working.
The coronavirus statistics show that the number of new cases is closely linked to the number of coronavirus tests conducted.
Until recently, testing in South Africa was reactive and restrictive – which means we may not have the full picture of the problem.
The lower number of tests in South Africa may therefore contribute to our numbers not following international trends.
According to Worldometer’s COVID-19 data, the number of tests conducted per 1 million people in South Africa is far lower than in developed countries.
In the United States, Spain, and Italy, the number of tests per 1 million people is between 5,800 and 12,000. In South Africa, fewer than 1,000 tests per 1 million people have been conducted.
This is likely to change, however, as Mkhize said they are targeting specific communities where people are showing mild symptoms of the virus.
Mkhize said South Africa needs to conduct hundreds of thousands of tests to really understand the number of infections and the spread of the virus.
Possible lockdown extension
The impact of the lockdown on the economy and people’s lives is severe.
Salary cuts and short time have already been introduced at many companies, and job losses are a certainty.
Many businesses, like the logistics sector, have asked the government to lift some of the lockdown restrictions to minimise the harm to businesses. To date, not much has happened.
The widespread uncertainty on whether the lockdown will be extended – either in its current format or a less-restrictive version – is aggravating the situation.
Businesses and ordinary South Africans are desperate for an answer, but they will have to wait a bit longer.
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu told News24 that Ramaphosa has not yet decided on whether the current lockdown will be extended.
Mthembu said the president has also not made a decision on a potential second lockdown.
Ramaphosa said they will base their decision on a scientific assessment on whether the national lockdown is working.
The decision to potentially extend the lockdown will be informed by scientific modelling and advice, and the economic impact of the shutdown.
While there is no clarity on whether the lockdown will be extended, many politicians have warned that it is on the cards.
Police Minister Bheki Cele said the government’s priority is to keep people safe. “People are asking can we go beyond the lockdown and we are saying anything is possible,” said Cele.
Deputy Minister of Police Cassel Mathale has also warned that the lockdown will have to be extended if people to not stay at home as required.