Home Opinion and Features 12 July – President’s full speech

12 July – President’s full speech

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STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA ON PROGRESS IN THE
NATIONAL

EFFORT TO CONTAIN THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

UNION BUILDINGS, TSHWANE

12 JULY 2020

 

My Fellow South Africans,

This evening, as I stand here before you, our nation is
confronted by the gravest crisis in the

history of our democracy.

For more than 120 days, we have succeeded in delaying the
spread of a virus that is

causing devastation across the globe.

We delayed the spread of the virus by working together
and by maintaining our resolve.

But now, the surge in infections that we had been advised
by our medical experts would

come, has arrived.

The storm is upon us.

More than a quarter of a million South Africans have been
infected with coronavirus, and we

know that many more infections have gone undetected.

As of this evening, there are 276,242 confirmed cases in
the country.

We are now recording over 12,000 new cases every day.

That is the equivalent of 500 new infections every hour

Since the start of the outbreak in March, at least 4,079
people have died from COVID-19.

What should concern us most is that a quarter of those
who died passed away in the last

week.

We mourn the loss of each and every one of them,
including some who have been in

leadership positions in our country, such as Queen
Noloyiso Sandile of the AmaRharhabe

and North West MEC Gordon Kegakilwe.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all their families at
this time of extraordinary grief.

We extend our best wishes for a speedy recovery to three
of our premiers who have been

tested positive for coronavirus – Premier Alan Winde,
Premier David Makhura and Premier

Job Mokgoro.

As a country, we are not alone in our fight against
coronavirus.

Most other countries around the world are engaged in the
same struggle as we are.

More than half a million people have died from COVID-19
across the world, and the total

number of confirmed cases across the world has grown
rapidly to more than 12.7 million.

While the surge in infections has been expected, the
force and the speed with which it has

progressed has, quite understandably, caused great
concern.

Many of us are fearful of the danger this presents for
ourselves, and for our families.

Like the massive cold fronts that sweep into our country
from the South Atlantic at this time

of year, there are few parts of the country that will
remain untouched by the coronavirus.

The coronavirus storm is far fiercer and more destructive
than any we have known before.

It is stretching our resources and our resolve to their
limits.

The surge of infections that our experts and scientists
predicted over 3 months ago has now

arrived. It started in the Western Cape and is now
underway in the Eastern Cape and

Gauteng.

Gauteng is fast approaching 100,000 confirmed cases.

The Eastern Cape has passed 50,000 cases, and although
the rate of transmission has

slowed in the Western Cape, it will soon have 80,000
cases.

According to current projections, each of our provinces
will reach the peak of infections at

different times between the end of July and late
September.

Yet, while infections rise exponentially, it is important
to note that our case fatality rate of

1.5% is among the lowest in the world.

This is compared to a global average case fatality rate
of 4.4%.

We owe the relatively low number of deaths in our country
to the experience and dedication

of our health professionals and the urgent measures we
have taken to build the capacity of

our health system which faced a number of its own
inherent challenges before COVID 19.

We must remember that the most important measure of
success is the number of lives we

save.

More than 134,000 South Africans have recovered from the
coronavirus.

Many of those who have recovered took personal
responsibility for their health and the

health of others, by self-isolating or presenting to
quarantine themselves facilities.

Even as most of our people have taken action to prevent
the spread of the virus, there are

others who have not.

There are some among us who ignore the regulations that
have been passed to combat the

disease. They also act without any responsibility to
respect and protect each other.

In the midst of our national effort to fight against this
virus there are a number of people who

have taken to organising parties, who have drinking
sprees, and some who walk around in

crowded spaces without masks.

Then there are some of our people who see no problem
attending funerals where the

number of people in attendance exceed the number of 50
that has been set out in

regulations.

In some cases some people go to funerals where more than
1,000 people are in attendance.

This is how the virus is spread – through carelessness
and through recklessness.

It is concerning that many are downplaying the
seriousness of the virus, despite all evidence

to the contrary and what we have cautioned on numerous
occasions.

We now know of several tragic instances where people who
have organised or attended

social gatherings, including gatherings with family, have
contracted the virus and have died.

In the midst of such a pandemic, getting into a taxi
without a face mask, gathering to meet

friends, attending parties or even visiting family, can
too easily spread the virus and cost

lives.

This may be a disease that is caused by a virus, but it
is spread by human conduct and

behaviour.

We are in the midst of a deadly pandemic and we must act
accordingly, in line with the

prevention measures we continue to communicate.

We are all required to be responsible, careful and
compassionate.

The truth is that we are not helpless in the face of this
storm.

Scientists and other scenario planners have presented us
with models that project that

South Africa may have between 40,000 and 50,000 deaths
before the end of this year.

We must make it our single most important task to prove
these projections wrong.

Through our own actions – as individuals, as families, as
communities – we can and we

must change the course of this pandemic in our country.

We are by now all familiar with what we need to do to
protect ourselves and others from

infection.

We need to wear a cloth mask that covers our nose and
mouth whenever we leave home.

We must continue to regularly wash our hands with soap
and water or sanitiser.

We must continue to clean and sanitise all surfaces in
all public spaces.

Most importantly, we must keep a safe distance – of at
least 2 metres – from other people.

There is now emerging evidence that the virus may also be
carried in tiny particles in the air

in places that are crowded, closed or have poor air
circulation.

For this reason we must immediately improve the indoor
environment of public places where

the risk of infection is greatest.

We must increase natural ventilation, avoid the
recirculation of air and minimise the number

of people sharing the same space.

We must do this in all heath care facilities, nursing
homes, shops, offices, workplaces,

schools, restaurants and public transport.

We have the power within ourselves, working with each
other, to limit the damage that this

virus does to our people, our society and our economy.

As we confront the rapid rise in infections, as we ready
ourselves for the difficult days,

weeks and months that lie ahead, we need to remind
ourselves of the absolute necessity of

the measures we have taken.

On the advice of health scientists and experts, our
decision to declare a nation-wide

lockdown prevented a massive early surge of infections
when our health services were less

prepared, which would have resulted in a far greater loss
of lives.

We knew that we could not escape the virus, but that we
needed to delay its spread for as

long as possible.

In the time that we had, we have taken important measures
to strengthen our health

response.

We have conducted more than two million coronavirus tests
and community health workers

have done more than 20 million screenings.

We have made available almost 28,000 hospital beds for
COVID-19 patients and have

constructed functional field hospitals across the
country.

We now have over 37,000 quarantine beds in private and
public facilities across the country,

ready to isolate those who cannot do so at home.

We have secured 1,700 additional ventilators, and
companies in South Africa are in the

process of producing another 12,000 ventilation devices
for delivery between the end of July

and the end of August.

We have procured and delivered millions of items of
personal protective equipment to

hospitals, clinics and schools across the country to
protect our frontline workers.

We have recruited and continue to recruit additional
nurses, doctors and emergency health

personnel.

We still have a serious shortage of more than 12,000
health workers, mostly nurses, doctors

and physiotherapists.

Thanks to the contributions by business and individuals,
the Solidarity Fund has invested

R1.9 billion in our health response, providing personal
protective equipment and other

supplies for our health facilities.

It is generally known that the ultimate defence the world
could have against coronavirus

would be a cure or a vaccine.

A vaccine against this virus does not exist.

South Africa has joined, and is playing an important role
in, the global effort to develop

vaccines and medicines to treat COVID-19.

Our country has an established vaccine manufacturing
capability and expertise in the

development and trial of a range of vaccines.

We continue to make progress in our efforts to deal with
COVID 19, but our greatest

challenge still lies ahead.

Health facilities in several provinces are already under
significant strain.

We have heard of instances where people who are infected
have been turned away from

health facilities due to a lack of beds or essential
supplies.

This is deeply worrying.

It means we have to move with even greater urgency to
strengthen our strategy to manage

the peak of infections.

We are focusing on a number of priority actions in the
coming weeks.

Across all provinces, we are working to further increase
the number of general ward and

critical beds available for COVID-19 patients. This must
be done.

Ward capacity is being freed up in a number of hospitals
by delaying non-urgent care, the

conversion of some areas of hospitals into additional
ward space and the erection or

expansion of field hospitals.

We are working to increase supplies of oxygen,
ventilators and other equipment for those

who will need critical care, including by diverting the
supply of oxygen from other purposes.

Due to the lack of critical care facilities in rural
areas, measures are being put in place to

refer patients to better-equipped urban centres.

To deal with shortages of health personnel in some areas,
we are employing more doctors

and nurses and negotiating with health science faculties
to deploy volunteers to provide

medical, nursing, physiotherapy, pharmacy and general
patient support.

I have been extremely proud to see medical students
volunteering at hospitals and clinics,

exemplifying the highest values of the medical
profession.

I commend them for their unwavering patriotism and
commitment to public service.

We are working to reduce the turnaround time for testing
to no more than 48 hours.

We are introducing antibody testing for community-based
surveillance to estimate the

population that has been infected with this virus.

These actions together represent an extraordinary
mobilisation of effort and resources.

But it is not only the health system that needs to be
strengthened.

This moment of crisis requires that we mobilise society
on a massive scale to confront this

pandemic.

We are working with traditional leaders, religious
formations, civil society organisations,

business associations, unions and other bodies to spread
the message about prevention

and care.

We need to follow the example of communities that have
set up ‘coronavirus forums’ at a

ward level to get residents involved in fighting this
disease.

As government, we are deploying Ministers and Deputy
Ministers to every district in the

country to ensure that the local response receives the
support that it needs.

They will also be initiating gender-based violence
prevention programmes at district level.

A vital part of our strategy to contain the spread of the
virus is to identify those people who

are infected, to identify those people they have been in
close contact with, and ensure that

they immediately isolate themselves from others.

We know there are some people who are reluctant to
isolate themselves – either at home or

in government facilities – but it is essential that we do
so if we are to break the chain of

transmission.

Social workers need to work with them to help them secure
their homes when they are

quarantined.

We are deploying digital technologies to strengthen the
identification, tracing and isolation of

contacts, and to provide support to those who test
positive.

In several provinces, those who take a coronavirus test
can now receive their result via

WhatsApp and provide details of their contacts through
this platform.

By responding to messages from the Department of Health
and providing this information,

you can help to stop the virus from spreading further.

By providing a correct cell phone number and personal
details when you test for the

coronavirus, you can make the task of our healthcare
workers easier.

If you have been in close contact with anyone who has
tested positive for the coronavirus,

you must self-quarantine at home or in a place of
quarantine.

Similarly, you need to remain at home or in a place of
quarantine while you are waiting for a

test result to ensure that you do not transmit the virus
without knowing it.

If you test positive for coronavirus and have diabetes or
hypertension and you are short of

breath, seek care at a hospital immediately.

This is the practical action we can and should take to
protect those around us.

It is precisely this consideration and care towards
others that will save lives.

In the light of the increased rate of infection, the
National Coronavirus Command Council

and Cabinet have considered returning all or parts of the
country to a higher alert level,

either to level 4 or level 5.

The advice we have received is that taking this step now
would not necessarily achieve a

significant reduction in the rate of transmission and
would come at an extraordinary

economic cost, putting more livelihoods at risk and
potentially causing long-lasting social

harm.

As we now approach the peak of infections, we need to
take extra precautions and tighten

existing measures to slow down the rate of transmission.

On the recommendation of the National Coronavirus Command
Council, Cabinet has

therefore decided that the country will remain at alert
level 3 at this time, but that we should

however strengthen the enforcement of existing
regulations and take certain additional

measures.

In order to reduce the rate of transmission, we had
earlier said that the wearing of cloth

masks will be mandatory.

While many South Africans are wearing masks, there are
however some among us who are

not wearing masks when in public.

It is therefore important that we should enforce the
wearing of masks.

Regulations on the wearing of masks will be strengthened.

Employers, shop owners and managers, public transport
operators, and managers and

owners of any other public building are now legally
obliged to ensure that anyone entering

their premises or vehicle must be wearing a mask.

All workplaces and all institutions need to ensure that
there is a designated coronavirus

official responsible for making sure that all regulations
and all precautions are strictly

adhered to.

Taxis undertaking local trips will now be permitted to
increase their capacity to 100%, while

long distance taxis will not be allowed to exceed 70%
occupancy, on condition that new risk

mitigation protocols related to masks, vehicle sanitising
and open windows are followed.

As we head towards the peak of infections, it is vital
that we do not burden our clinics and

hospitals with alcohol-related injuries that could have
been avoided.

This is a fight to save every life, and we need to save
every bed.

We have therefore decided that in order to conserve
hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing

and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with
immediate effect.

There is now clear evidence that the resumption of
alcohol sales has resulted in substantial

pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU
units, due to motor vehicle

accidents, violence and related trauma.

Most of these and other trauma injuries occur at night.

Therefore, as an additional measures to reduce the
pressure on hospitals, a curfew will be

put in place between the hours of 9pm and 4am.

Apart from people who need to travel to and from work or
who need to seek urgent medical

or other assistance during this time, everyone will be
required to remain at home.

The curfew will take effect from tomorrow, Monday, 13
July 2020 at 9pm.

We are taking these measures fully aware that they impose
unwelcome restrictions on

people’s lives.

They are, however, necessary to see us through the peak
of the disease.

At the same time, we have decided to ease restrictions on
activities that pose a lower risk of

infection and are important for economic or educational
purposes.

As part of resuming economic activity, all auctions will
be permitted subject to protocols

similar to those that currently apply to agricultural
auctions.

Parks will be open for exercise, but not for any form of
gathering.

After careful consideration of expert advice, there are
still some activities that present too

much of a risk to permit at this stage.

For this reason, family visits and other social
activities will unfortunately not be allowed for

now.

I know that this places a great burden on families and
individuals and can cause great

emotional strain, especially for those with elderly
parents.

It goes against our very nature as social beings, but it
is a hardship that we must endure for

that much longer to protect those we love and care for
from this disease.

To ensure that we have the means to continue to respond
effectively to this severe health

emergency, Cabinet has approved the extension of the
national state of disaster to the 15 th

of August 2020.

There is no way that we can avoid the coronavirus storm.

But we can limit the damage that it can cause to our
lives.

As a nation we have come together to support each other,
to provide comfort to those who

are ill and to promote acceptance of people living with
the virus.

I have been encouraged by the COVID-19 support groups
that have been started online

where people can share their experiences and give
encouragement, and by the work of

religious bodies, community groups and traditional
leaders to support people in areas across

the country.

This is an important part of breaking the stigma around
the virus and motivates those who

are ill to seek care and not live in fear of
victimisation.

I wish to pay tribute to the many thousands of people who
are on the frontline of our fight

against coronavirus.

These are the nurses, doctors and other health workers
who are working tirelessly to save

lives; the police, soldiers and traffic officials who are
responsible for our safety; the essential

service workers who have been keeping our country
functioning; the religious leaders who

have provided comfort and guidance; and the media workers
who have kept the country

informed.

We remember those frontline workers who have lost their
lives to COVID-19.

We grieve with their families, hopeful that they may find
some comfort in the support and

gratitude of those that they so selflessly served.

The difficulty, struggle and sacrifice of the past few
months are about to get significantly

harder and our endurance will be sorely tested.

But if there is one thing we have learned over the past
few months, it is that South Africans

remain united in the face of a common threat.

We have stood for each other and stood by each other.

Let us firm the hand of solidarity we have extended to
the vulnerable and the destitute.

Let us lay the foundation for National Health Insurance
so that all people have access to the

quality health care they need regardless of their ability
to pay.

As we work together to preserve life, we must begin to
rebuild our economy and deepen

measures to protect those whose livelihoods have been so
badly impacted by the lockdown.

The days, weeks and months to come will present some of
the greatest tests of our

nationhood.

Let us remember that we share a collective responsibility
to bring down the rate of infections.

Let us remember that every individual action we undertake
can and does make a difference.

Let us remember that whether we are a family with an
infected member, a business owner

worried for their staff or a parent concerned for the
safety of their children, that none of us

stands alone.

 

Now, more than ever, we are responsible for the lives of
those around us.

We will weather this storm.

We will restore our country to health and to prosperity.

We shall overcome.

 

I thank you.