/Cyril Ramaphosa | A lesson from Wuhan repatriates: lockdown works

Cyril Ramaphosa | A lesson from Wuhan repatriates: lockdown works

2020-03-30 08:24

It is now abundantly clear that the most effective way for a society to contain the spread of the disease is for the population to remain at home and physically isolated from each other for at least several weeks, writes President Cyril Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter.

Dear Fellow South

As we begin the first full week of the nationwide lockdown to
combat the coronavirus pandemic that is devastating the world, we are grateful
for good news that brings us joy and hope at this difficult and uncertain time.

Yesterday, I was in Polokwane to meet the 114 South Africans
who were evacuated from Wuhan in China two weeks ago. They have ended their
quarantine and are finally going home to be with their families. They have all
tested negative for the virus and are in good health and good spirits.

For months, they have been in lockdown, first in Wuhan for
some 51 days and then in Polokwane for 14 days. They have been unable to be
with their loved ones, unable to leave their living quarters and uncertain
about when their ordeal would end. When we add the remaining 17 days that South
Africa will be under lockdown they will have been under lockdown for 82 days.

It was wonderful to spend time with this diverse group of
South Africans made up of all ages, languages and backgrounds. I was impressed
by their resilience and courage and by their determination to remain healthy.
They have come from the epicentre of the coronavirus in Wuhan in China and have
seen the devastating impact this virus is wreaking on human life. It is not
surprising to hear them say that they are on a mission to safeguard the health
of those around them. Now their patience and fortitude has been rewarded,
because they are returning to their families.

Their return home was made possible by a great many people
who went to great lengths to make this repatriation operation a success.

As a nation, we are extremely grateful to the Government and
the people of China for taking such good care of our citizens, and for their
assistance in organising their repatriation. It is significant that several of
the South Africans in Wuhan were on study scholarships from the Chinese
government; an act of generosity that is deeply appreciated.

We are grateful too to all the people who were involved in
the operation, from the SAA flight crew to the medical team to the police and
soldiers who brought them home. Each and every one of them stepped forward to
take responsibility for the safety and well-being of others. They were prepared
to undertake a difficult and dangerous mission and to subject themselves to
quarantine. And now, they all tell me, they are ready for their next mission.

I wish to thank the staff and management of the Ranch Hotel
in Polokwane, who took great care of the returnees. They were prepared to play
their part in our national effort to overcome this disease. Everyone involved
in this operation has done South Africa proud.

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The experience of the South Africans in Wuhan demonstrates
the effectiveness – and the necessity – of a state of lockdown. It was due to
the drastic actions that the Chinese government took to contain the disease in
the city of Wuhan, that all of our people were able to return uninfected and

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in the province of Hubei,
had more than 50 000 infections. Now, after more than two months after
stringent lockdown measures were put in place, the province has had fewer than
20 new cases in the past two weeks.

The containment of the disease in Wuhan City, in Hubei
Province and in other places across China required a massive and extraordinary
effort. It involved drastic restrictions on daily life and is having a severe
impact on the Chinese economy. Other countries that have taken similar measures
are having greater success in managing the spread of the disease than countries
that have been slower to respond.

As the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide
grows to over 700 000 and the number of deaths exceeds 33 000, we can draw
lessons from these countries.

It is now abundantly clear that the most effective way for a
society to contain the spread of the disease is for the population to remain at
home and physically isolated from each other for at least several weeks. And it is important that this
lockdown and all other emergency measures are both strictly adhered to and
consistently enforced. 

As the South Africans from Wuhan can testify, such
restrictions on daily life, on movement and on ordinary human contact are
extremely difficult to endure. In the South African context, a lockdown brings
additional hardship and strain, and we are doing everything within our means to
lessen the impact on our people.

But the lesson from the South Africans in Wuhan is that a
lockdown works. It shows that if we strictly observe the rules in place to stop
the virus spreading, we will be able to bring infection rates down. It shows
that if we cooperate with health authorities in doing what we have to do, we
won’t be just saving our own lives but those around us too.

The story of our South African returnees from Wuhan should
give us encouragement and hope in the difficult weeks that lie ahead.

Their story tells us that there is a light at the end of the
tunnel, that if we stay the course, that if we remain disciplined and respect
the lockdown, that if we work together, we will overcome.

With best wishes,

President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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