Covid-19 panic grips SA

Anx­ious ci­ti­zens flock­ing to food stores; fears prices will surge as min­is­ter urges peo­ple to re­main calm

Pretoria News - - FRONT PAGE - NONI MOKATI

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. |

NIC BOTHMA EPA-EFE

A WOMAN shops for toi­let pa­per in Con­stan­tia, Cape Town, as panic buy­ing con­tin­ues in the coun­try amid the spread of coron­avirus. |

| AP

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.

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