President Cyril Ramaphosa should have declared a state of disaster earlier when the coronavirus hit South Africa’s shores almost two weeks ago, but his response on Sunday night was powerful and on point.
After Ramaphosa’s address to the nation, there can be no doubt to any South African what a grave danger the virus holds for our population, many of whom are old, poor and ill with vulnerable immune systems and respiratory diseases.
It is no longer a foreign illness brought here by visitors. Coronavirus is now being transmitted between South Africans.
Ramaphosa’s decision to activate the Disaster Management Act was correct. The Act gives the government incredible authority to deal with the outbreak in a way that makes sense to society and our economy.
We had the advantage of watching how China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and the Unites States attempted to deal with the virus – some with more success than others. Burying our heads in the sand was no longer an option and Ramaphosa’s dramatic approach was the right one.
Large-scale surveillance and testing are essential to curb the transmission of the virus. Besides the obvious personal hygiene behavioural changes, we must brace ourselves to be subjected to invasive testing.
This is good. Significant social distancing and aggressive testing are the only ways to slow down the rapid spreading of the virus.
It will not be comfortable; we will no longer be able to gather at sporting, cultural or religious events where more than 100 people are present. We should not shake hands with anyone and will need to lean on our support networks to look after our children who are on an extended holiday break.
But there is simply no other way to avoid a humanitarian crisis on the scale of what Italy is currently experiencing (the country added 368 coronavirus deaths to its total of almost 2 000 deceased persons on Sunday).
We support Ramaphosa’s call to defeat fear and ignorance. Neither will benefit or help this historic disaster we have to overcome.
Ramaphosa has given us a clear and solid blueprint to work from. It is now up to each and every South African to play our part in making sure we look after ourselves and those around us as we battle an unprecedented threat in the next few weeks and months.