Covid-19 panic grips SA
Anxious citizens flocking to food stores; fears prices will surge as minister urges people to remain calm
MANY South Africans, fearful of the growing number of those infected by Covid-19, resorted to panic buying yesterday, despite Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel advising against this.
Patel, who met the National Economic Development and Labour Council, 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 did not surge.
By late yesterday, the number of confirmed cases in the country had risen to 62, and anxiety across the country was palpable. Hundreds of people were flocking to supermarkets across the country to stock up on essentials.
Patel was speaking alongside several Cabinet ministers at a briefing in Pretoria where all detailed plans that will be taken by their respective departments to tackle the respiratory virus.
This followed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration that Covid-19 was now a national disaster and gatherings of large crowds would be restricted.
“We are monitoring the impact of the virus on the global economy and on critical export channels.
“Second, we have worked to secure the supplies of basic hygiene and medical stocks. We have worked on industrial measures to prevent infection and the economic downturn,” he said.
On fears that essential goods may run out, Patel said: “Our intention is to get the movement flowing. It is a critical source of economic activity…
“The retail sector is optimistic that it can meet the demand. We need to ensure there is no panic buying.”
Employers have also been advised to adhere to the labour practices surrounding employees.
While it is not clear how the government will monitor 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.
However, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize called on South Africans to be alert. “We need to move fast to reduce the speed at 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. “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.
“We need everyone to play their role. We have seen that coronavirus can be defeated.”
No deaths have yet been reported in the country.
Mkhize said all 114 South Africans repatriated from Wuhan in China, who arrived at the weekend, were in quarantine at The Ranch Resort in Polokwane.
“On Sunday all these citizens were examined and tested for Covid-19. We are waiting for the results.”
Mkhize also said that in addition to those evacuated, four other South Africans remained behind after 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 the plane.”
He added that the Department of Social Development was already working hard to ensure they were back in the country. Further on the economic front, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the main objective for the government was to ensure the economy did not grind to a halt. He said funds had already been set aside for the response to the disease. Police Minister Bheki Cele said the SAPS would also be on high alert in ensuring that public gatherings were kept to a bare minimum.
Meanwhile, tomorrow is D-day for many foreign nationals as the travel ban is expected to come into full effect. Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula reiterated Ramaphosa’s statements that the government was imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from highrisk countries.
These included Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and China. Visas to visitors from those countries were cancelled and those previously granted revoked.
Mbalula said all chartered aircraft would be landing at designated airports.
Furthermore, from today random screening will be conducted at taxi ranks. Taxis and trains will also be sanitised.
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said while the schools would be closing from tomorrow until after the Easter holiday period, the curriculum would be amended in due course to make up for lost time.
“We have determined that schools should resume on April 14 unless determined differently. If that happens, I will communicate with parents. We are going to lose 10 school days as a result of the closures. To compensate for lost days the June holidays will be cut short by a week. Once opened, schools will be encouraged to extend tuition hours,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission has indicated it would urgently approach the Electoral Court to postpone all scheduled by-elections.
IRAN reported another 129 fatalities from Covid-19 yesterday, the largest one-day rise in deaths since it began battling the Middle East’s worst outbreak, which has claimed more than 850 lives and infected a number of senior officials in the country.
Businesses in Iran’s capital remained open, however, even as other countries in the region moved toward full lockdowns, with Lebanon largely shutting down and Iraqis racing to prepare for a curfew set to begin later this week.
The divergent approaches adopted by local authorities reflect continued uncertainty over how to slow the spread of a virus that has infected around 170 000 people worldwide and caused more than 6 500 deaths.
Panic broke out in Iraq after authorities announced a week-long curfew late on Sunday. People raced to supermarkets and swiftly emptied shelves, while others stocked up on kerosene and cooking gas. The curfew, which is set to begin late today, includes the suspension of all flights from Baghdad’s international airport.
Iraq’s Health Ministry has reported 124 cases of coronavirus and nine deaths.
In Lebanon, where the government ordered a lockdown, traffic was thin and some streets were completely empty yesterday, the start of the working week. Restaurants, cafés and bars have been closed since last week and most private businesses were shuttered yesterday.
Police asked shop owners to close in line with the government orders and moved to clear the few remaining people from Beirut’s seaside corniche.
Pharmacies, bakeries and other businesses related to making or selling food were allowed to stay open. The small country has reported 99 cases and three deaths from the new coronavirus.
Both Iraq and Lebanon have been largely in disarray since anti-government protests broke out last year, and Lebanon was mired in its worst financial crisis in years even before the pandemic began.
One of the worst outbreaks in the world has unfolded in Iran, which has close ties to both Iraq and Lebanon. Authorities there have reported 14 991 confirmed cases and 853 deaths. Yesterday’s jump in fatalities was the largest one-day rise since the epidemic began. The real numbers may be even higher, as some have questioned the government’s reporting.
Many Iranians have dismissed fears about the virus and advice from public health officials to avoid social contact. Restaurants and cafés have remained open, though business has diminished.
A member of the Assembly of Experts, which has the power to appoint or dismiss the country’s supreme leader, died from the Covid19 illness caused by the virus.
Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, 78, is the latest of several senior Iranian officials to have been infected. Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials have caught the virus, compounding fears about Iran’s response to the global pandemic.
Despite the mounting toll, President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday he believed Iran had moved past the “peak” of the virus, even as he advised people to stay at home, according to the official Mizan news agency.
Elsewhere in the region, the number of infections has continued to climb even as authorities have imposed strict travel and quarantine measures.
Mideast stock markets also tumbled yesterday, with the Dubai Financial Market closing down 6.14% and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange down 7.83%. Both have closed their trading floors over fears about the virus. |
A WOMAN shops for toilet paper in Constantia, Cape Town, as panic buying continues in the country amid the spread of coronavirus. |
A WOMAN wearing a face mask shops at a store in Bamland shopping mall in western Tehran, Iran. Many people in Tehran shrugged off warnings over the new coronavirus as authorities complained that most people in the capital are not treating the crisis seriously enough.