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Covid-19: Anxiety across country as panic seizes shoppers

Shelves stand empty following panic buying at stores. President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster and announced drastic measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, such as a ban on gatherings of more than 100. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Shelves stand empty following panic buying at stores. President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster and announced drastic measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, such as a ban on gatherings of more than 100. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 17, 2020


Johannesburg - Many South Africans, fearful of the growing number of those infected by Covid-19, resorted to panic buying on Monday despite Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel advising against this.

Patel, who met with Nedlac, unions and the business community, said consultations would take place and organisations such as the Competition Commission would be roped in to ensure food prices do not surge.

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He was speaking alongside several Cabinet ministers at a briefing in Pretoria where all have detailed plans that will be executed by their respective departments to tackle the respiratory virus following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration that Covid-19 was now a national disaster, and that gatherings of large crowds would be restricted.

More than 60 South Africans have been infected with the virus. “We are monitoring the impact of the virus in the global economy and on crucial export channels. Secondly, we have worked to secure the supplies of basic hygiene and medical stocks. We have worked on industrial measures to prevent infection and an economic downturn,” he said.

On fears that essential goods might run dry, Patel said: “Our intention is to get the movement flowing. It is a critical source of economic activity… The retail sector are optimistic that they can meet the demand. We need to ensure there is no panic buying.”

Employers have also been advised to adhere to labour practices surrounding employees. While it is not clear how the government will monitor surveillance around offices with a high contingent of staff members, Patel said he would hold discussions with Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, on finding strategies.

The government had steered clear of announcing plans that the country could be in a state of emergency. But what Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has done is to call on all South Africans to be alert.

“We need to move fast to reduce the speed with which (coronavirus infections are) happening. Hard combat means we have to turn ourselves into soldiers, ready to fight. Every South African is a soldier. It’s not going to be simple,” Mkhize said, adding, “We are determined to suffer as few casualties as possible. We are determined to deal with this outbreak and also determined to take hard decisions if need be.”

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He added: “We need everyone to play a role and we have seen that the coronavirus can be defeated.” No deaths have yet been reported in the country. Mkhize said all 114 South Africans repatriated from Wuhan in China and who arrived this past weekend are in quarantine at the Ranch Resort in Polokwane, Limpopo, and have been tested again.

“On Sunday all these citizens were examined and tested for Covid-19. We are waiting for the results.” Mkhize also said in addition to those evacuated, four South Africans had to remain behind as they displayed mild symptoms.

“We are not saying they have the disease but this was done to mitigate the risk of having them on board,” he said, adding that the Department of Social Development was ready to ensure they returned to the country.

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On the economic front, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said that the main objective for the government was to ensure that the economy did not grind to a halt. Mboweni said funds were already set aside for the response to the disease.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said the police would also be on high alert to ensure that public gatherings were kept to a minimum.

Meanwhile, Wednesday is D-Day for many foreign nationals as the travel ban comes into full effect. Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula reiterated Ramaphosa’s statement that the government was imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from highrisk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and China, with visas to visitors from those countries cancelled and previously granted visas revoked.

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From on Tuesday, random screening will be conducted at taxi ranks and taxis and trains will be sanitised. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said while schools would be closing from tomorrow until after the Easter holiday period, the school curriculum would be amended in due course to make up for lost time.

“As a sector, we have determined that schools should resume on April 14, 2020 unless determined differently. If that happens we will communicate with parents. We are going to lose 10 school days as a result of the school closures,” she said.

Meanwhile, the ANC has resolved to postpone all its planned events and conferences, including the national general council, and those of its leagues which were planned for the coming months.

Following the extended meeting of the ANC national working committee (NWC) in Centurion on Monday where the top brass discussed the party’s own response to the spread of the virus, Ramaphosa said this was part of his announcement that gatherings of more than 100 people were prohibited as Covid-19 was transmitted through contact.

With the Easter weekend approaching where religious formations were set to hold their annual congregations, Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha announced that the Zion Christian Church would go ahead with its pilgrimage.

Ramaphosa said the newly established National Command Council (NCC) led by him would meet with religious leaders at the Union Buildings on Thursday where they would be briefed about the virus.

Political Bureau

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