Country goes into lockdown

An empty University of Cape Town campus.

At midnight, South Africa will go into a 21-day lockdown to curb the spread Covid-19, of which, as of yesterday, there were 709 confirmed cases in the country.

According to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Monday, the lockdown will run from midnight on Thursday March 26 to Thursday April 16.

All shops and businesses will close, except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, supermarkets, petrol stations and health-care facilities.

Companies deemed essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies will also stay open.

Health-care workers, police, traffic officers,soldiers and other essential workers are exempted from the lockdown.

As of Wednesday March 25, there were 709 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country, a 28% increase from 554 the day before.

On Monday, UCT confirmed its fourth Covid-19 case – a postgraduate student.

UCT confirmed its first case, a staff member, on Sunday March 15; its second, a visiting researcher, on Thursday March 19; and its third, a project manager who worked in the same department as the researcher, on Saturday March 21.

UCT spokesman Elijah Moholola said they had arranged extra buses for students needing travel assistance with the looming lockdown.

“Following the announcement by Mr Ramaphosa, in order to contain and flatten the curve, UCT has to close all residences and require every student to return home.”

No staff would be allowed in any UCT building and all academic activities, including research, would cease, under the lockdown, he said.

The university’s CEO, Dr Reno Morar, said confidentiality was important when dealing with the medical conditions of staff and students.

“Breaking that confidentiality is not acceptable for health-care professionals (which includes health scientists) as it is against their ethical codes.”

Meanwhile, two UCT alumni, Tamir Shklaz and Wisani Shilumani, have built an app, Coronapp, to counter Covid-19 fake news.

Mr Shklaz, who has degree in electrical and computer engineering, has been working full-time on Quillo, a start-up he created during his third year at UCT. Mr Shilumani, a software developer, has a degree in mechanical engineering. He started developing apps and websites while studying.

“We saw a great deal of misinformation about the outbreak and the nature of the virus circulating on social media. The fake news around the outbreak not only created a great deal of uncertainty but was incredibly dangerous; there were trends such as gargling bleach or supposed home remedies that could cure the virus,” said Mr Shklaz .

It took them one weekend, working round the clock, to build the app. The Twitter section only shows tweets from the national Department of Health, ensuring a real-time flow of accurate information from an official source.

The following measures take immediate effect under the lockdown:

(BLOB) South African citizens and residents arriving from high-risk countries will automatically be placed under quarantine for 14 days.

(BLOB) Non-South Africans arriving on flights from high-risk countries prohibited a week ago will be turned back.

(BLOB) International flights to Lanseria Airport will be temporarily suspended.

(BLOB) International travellers who arrived in South Africa after March 9 from high-risk countries will be confined to their hotels until they have completed a 14-day period of quarantine.

The government has established the Solidarity Response Fund, which will be independently administered, to help combat the spread of the virus, care for those who are ill and support those whose lives are disrupted. Anyone can donate to the cause. Visit www.solidarityfund.co.za for more information.

Mayor Dan Plato has welcomed the lockdown as a necessary measure in unprecedented times to curb the spread of the Covid-19.