South Africa’s fight against the “invisible” enemy began in earnest Friday as the nation experienced its first day of lockdown.
It was to be a day of mixed success, with millions of South Africans heeding President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to stay at home. Others weren’t so obliging and a combined force of the SAPS, the army and metro police had to step in.
“Those people don’t have a good will,” said Minister of Police Bheki Cele at a press briefing last night. He further warned: “If you don’t walk with us, we will pull you to walk with us.”
For many South Africans, yesterday was also the day when the pandemic became real with the announcement of the country’s first Covid-19 death.
Infections in South Africa have surged to 1170.
The 48-year-old patient who died, Madeleine Van Wyk, was a business development manager for Sanlam’s professional markets.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement last night that she suffered from a pulmonary embolism, which meant she had an underlying disease.
Van Wyk died at the Durbanville Mediclinic after falling ill about a week ago. Her family, including her stepmother, took to social media to inform friends and family of the tragic loss.
Cathy Lombaard posted: “I just want to let all my friends who know my husband, Frik Lombaard that his youngest daughter, Madeleine Van Wyk passed away this morning to the coronavirus.”
Her husband said that the family weren’t sure where she contracted the virus.
Mkhize said there were 55 patients in public and private hospitals, four of whom were in ICU and three on ventilators. There was an increase in the rate of internal transmissions in the country, he said.
Britain’s leader Boris Johnson also tested positive for the virus yesterday.
Policing the lockdown was a force of 24 000 personnel, made up of the army, police and metro police.
“We are fighting an invisible enemy that people need to understand. There were people who were like, we still are not clear what the issue is,” said Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula.
There were 172 roadblocks set up on the national roads across the country.
One of the issues raised by Mapisa- Nqakula was that people had been stranded as they tried to travel across the country. Some had ended up at Beitbridge trying to cross the border. They had to be turned back to the province from where they had come.
By last night, 55 people had been arrested for breaking the liquor laws. Of these, 20 were in Gauteng.
Cele said the phones of authorities were “abuzz last night” with people phoning authorities with tip-offs.
“We were working with many good citizens of the land.”
There were other problems experienced. Taxis, according to the Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, were still too full.
Trade and Industry minister Ebrahim Patel highlighted problems with long queues outside shops. This was after large crowds of people went shopping yesterday in various parts of the country as lockdown kicked in.
Patel said it would defeat the purpose of social distancing if people shopped in large numbers.
“Even though next week we will have people receiving social grants it is vital we control the spread of the virus,” he said.
He was working with industry to see how these queues could be shortened.
Food production was going ahead and empty shelves in many shops were being restocked.
He added that 50 000 companies with 1.5 million workers had registered their businesses as essential services.
Efforts are being made to keep food production going the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) is working to ramp up testing.
Currently, it can process 5000 samples a day - it is hoping to expand this to 36 000 tests a day by the end of April.
"We are pleased the NHLS has increased its testing facilities," said Mkhize.
His department was aware that there was a significant backlog, "especially from some private laboratories due to pressure caused by the increasing workload".
More laboratories would be extended to SA's academic hospitals and by April, 47 mobile testing laboratories would be spread around the country.
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu confirmed there was no need for President Cyril Ramaphosa to be tested for the coronavirus after he came into contact with a leader of an opposition party who had tested positive.
Soldiers and a police member in Khayelitsha near Cape Town yesterday. Picture: Mike Hutchings REUTERS
No need for president to retest for virus
“I have been informed that he has been advised that since he tested negative knowing he had been in contact with Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, the advisers agree there is no need for the president to take another test,” said Mthembu.
Ramaphosa had tested negative this week before Meshoe’s results came out yesterday where he tested positive for the coronavirus, with his chief whip Steve Swart.
Mapisa-Nqakula also defended Ramaphosa for wearing an army uniform while addressing soldiers before they were deployed.
“The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and there was nothing wrong in wearing the uniform of the South African National Defence Force,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
Meanwhile, in Durban, anxious family members of South African crew members awaited news yesterday if they would be allowed to disembark from the luxury liner Queen Mary 2 before it heads to Southampton, UK.
Off the uMhlanga coast yesterday, the Queen Mary lay at anchor behind the MSC Orchestra which was also temporarily moved out of the port.
A crew member’s mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she was “desperate” to see her daughter safely on home soil.
“There are about 18 South Africans on board and while some want to remain on the ship, some of them want to get home. I realise that our lockdown started yesterday, but I understand that the port authorities and the ship’s captain have been busy resolving the matter. I know the ship needs to refuel.
“It is the first time my daughter has worked on a cruise liner and she has been so enjoying it but I’m a desperate mom and want to see my child home.”
Another South African crew member’s partner had been driving up from Cape Town to fetch her this week, when his trip came to an abrupt end.
“I got as far as Wilderness. I was so excited as I haven’t seen her for six months. But I do understand that she may have to go into quarantine if they are allowed to disembark.
“I felt disappointed, but I will be making another trip up to Durban,” he said yesterday.
A man raises his hands as he walks past SANDF members during their patrols in Alexandra, Joburg, yesterday. Siphiwe Sibeko Reuters
Who to call:
Emergency helplines as announced by the government
GBV Command Centre: 0800 428 428 / *120*7867# from any cellphone
Persons with disabilities, SMS “help” to 31531
Women Abuse Helpline: 0800 150 150
Child line: 0800 055 555
SAPS Crime Stop: 0860 10111 / SMS Crime Line: 32211
GBVF-related service complaints (SAPS): 0800 333 177/
National Aids Helpline: 0800 012 322
National Human Trafficking Helpline: 0800 222 777
Suicide Helpline: 0800 567 567
National Department of Health: www.health.gov.za
National Institute of Communicable Diseases: www.nicd.ac.za
World Health Organisation: www.who.int
Coronavirus Hotline: 0800 029 999