Charles Cilliers
7 minute read
27 Mar 2020
7:10 pm

Cabinet briefs SA on how day 1 of shutdown went, with 1,170 Covid-19 cases confirmed

Charles Cilliers

After South Africa has registered its first Covid-19 deaths, on the same morning it began a 21-day lockdown, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu put the exact figure at 1,170 on Friday evening.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu. Photo: Jairus Mmutle / GCIS

He clarified that only one death in the country could be conclusively linked to Covid-19, while the other one was currently only “suspected”.

Cabinet was providing feedback on how the first day of lockdown has gone.


Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula explained that the main focus on the first day was to lock down Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, the three most affected provinces. However, the army was now in all nine provinces.

They had noted that the public were still unclear on the measures being taken and there had been “some failures”.

She said some travellers had found themselves stranded at Beitbridge, between South Africa and Zimbabwe, because no one has been allowed to cross the border.

The SANDF would not be making arrests, merely supporting the police.

Mapisa-Nqakula defended the fact that President Cyril Ramaphosa had worn an SANDF camouflage uniform, and that it was appropriate that he had not born the marks of any rank.

“Camouflage means we are going to work. He is the commander in chief of the defence force.”


Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula expressed disappointment that there had not been enough taxis in the morning to transport essential workers.

“Transporting essential workers was the first issue today. It started well although there were long queues at 5am because taxis did not arrive.”

He called on the taxi industry to understand the limits placed on passenger numbers in vehicles.

Mbalula acknowledged that it was primarily human transport that was responsible for the spread of the virus and everyone needed to understand that their could be no travel between provinces, metros and districts.

There had been increased operations with law enforcement on the country’s roads.


Police Minister Bheki Cele said the police had focused some of their efforts on the N1 route and people heading to Limpopo had been turned back. The N4 to North West and N3 to KwaZulu-Natal had experienced a similar lockdown.

He said there had been numerous road blocks in the country and more than 22,000 officials had been deployed.

“We had a good night. We had success.”

He said many South Africans had supported the efforts and 55 arrests were made, with 20 in Gauteng, primarily for breaking the laws against the restrictions on liquor.

He accused the arrested of lacking goodwill and doing things that had been prohibited and were endangering the lives of the majority in South Africa.

“We will continue to do this. We know that even this morning people were still giving us good information.”

He said the information that a shebeen in Soshanguve was partying had been fake news.

Cele slammed people who went to shopping centres without the intention to buy basic goods but simply for “an outing”.

“We know at least that this thing kills. [The death of a 28-year-old] blows the theory that this only kills people in their 60s, 70s, 80s. No. The first victim is 28 years old.”

He called on the population to partner with government to defeat the scourge. “If you don’t walk with us, we pull you to walk with us.”

Trade and Industry

Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel called the start of the lockdown an “unprecedented event” in South Africa.

He acknowledged the seriousness of the challenge, with the rise in infections and the first death. He said “tens of millions of South Africans” had heeded the president’s call to stay home.

He said they had received reports of companies that had stayed open despite not being part of essential services, but that had been minimal.

Patel said farms and the related services around that had been hard at work and stores had started to replenish stocks after the week’s panic buying.

“Today was the first day that many retail shoppers were able to shop after being paid this month. We must shorten the queues. We must decrease the number of people in stories.”

He said discussions were being held with all role players to lower the conditions that would make it easy for the virus to spread through retail stories.

Patel thanked truck drivers, factory workers and others working with them for supplying the products needed to continue to sustain themselves during the lockdown.

He said new regulations had been approved on Thursday night to update the list of basic goods, so that products for babies and toddlers as well as personal toiletry goods like roll-on and toothpaste were included.

Tow-truck and breakdown drivers were now included, as well as call-centres. People running payrolls in companies were also now essential, and critical maintenance services were also permitted.

The effort remained to keep the focus of people allowed to work as narrow as possible. There were now 33 essential service areas.

Patel said 50,000 businesses had been registered for providing essential services, adding up to 1.5 million people. At least 40,000 companies had already been issued with certificates.

“We are beginning to develop a single database of companies.”

A common database was also being built where the department of health could see how much medication was in stock in the country and where it needed replacement.

The minister said they had received just over 500 complaints of excessive pricing and the Competition Commission was involved in bringing the full might of the law down on exploitative companies. Company owners risked being jailed. He made an appeal to businesses to work to get the country to the end of the crisis and not to try to exploit the situation.

Hotels were being identified for use as quarantine sites.

Patel later clarified that spaza shops were allowed to sell only essential goods and they also had to do better to ensure social distancing.

Home Affairs

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that border control had been the biggest challenge on the day. He described congestion at Beitbridge and the fear that the nearby town of Musina could have been overwhelmed by people unable to cross the border.

People were arriving at the Beitbridge border long before 12pm, but authorities realised Zambia had a lockdown deadline of 8pm. The mixup with Zambia was apparently cleared up and people were again allowed to move through.

Watch the live briefing below, courtesy of the SABC:

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement on Friday morning: “This morning, we wake South Africans up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from Covid-19.”

Both the deceased were women, aged 28 and 48.

“These two deaths occurred in the Western Cape. One at a private hospital and the other at a public hospital. We will give more details later on, when we announce the latest confirmed Covid-19 cases, which have increased from yesterday’s number and have tipped the 1,000 mark.”

Mkhize had earlier this week said two cases were in ICU, while adding that the majority of people were not showing bad symptoms.

On Thursday evening the number of cases had risen by 218, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 927.

The provincial breakdowns were given as follows on Thursday:

President Cyril Ramaphosa while giving a speech had earlier said the number of Covid-19 infections in South Africa had risen to more than 900. He is usually the first person to be told by the health minister.

Ramaphosa was delivering well wishes to the South African Police Service and the South African National Defence Force ahead of the national 21-day lockdown.

The SAPS and SANDF would from midnight “play an important role in supporting and enforcing the nations’ compliance with the restriction of movement of people under the National State of Disaster and lockdown”.

The president started at the South African Police Services College in Pretoria to inspect a parade before addressing the South African National Defence Force at the Doornkop Army Base in Johannesburg.

On Wednesday Health Minister Zweli Mkhize updated the confirmed number of Covid-19 infections at 709.

The Health Minister has warned that South Africans should brace themselves for continuing news of steady increases in the number of cases.

The lockdown taking effect on Thursday at midnight has the aim of stopping person-to-person transmission of the contagious that which has spread around the world.

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