Lockdown restrictions in South Africa can be extended by several weeks – Report

The national lockdown restrictions may have to be extended by between two and four months to effectively fight the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in South Africa.

This is according to Rapport, which cited a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). It said new infections in South Africa will only peak in the beginning of June.

The report said restrictions will only be lifted somewhere between the end of June and the end of August as a result.

The newspaper also highlighted that President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his weekly letter that stringent measures are needed to fight COVID-19.

“It was due to the drastic actions that the Chinese government took that all of our people were able to return uninfected and healthy,” he said.

He said the containment of the disease in Wuhan City and other places across China required a massive and extraordinary effort. The Wuhan lockdown lasted for two months.

“It is now abundantly clear that the most effective way for a society to contain the spread of the disease is for the population to remain at home and physically isolated from each other for at least several weeks,” Ramaphosa said.

“It is important that this lockdown and all other emergency measures are both strictly adhered to and consistently enforced.”

Deputy Minister of Police Cassel Mathale has also warned the lockdown will have to be extended if South Africa did not manage to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Business leaders, including EOH CEO Stephen Van Coller, have further warned that companies may need to prepare for a lockdown extension.

“Based on current news and information available, all indications point to an extension of the lockdown period,” Van Coller said in a letter to staff.

While an extension of restrictions is expected by many people, the government said there is currently no plan to extend the mandatory lockdown.

Possible calm before the storm

Over the last week, the number of new coronavirus cases in South Africa was much lower than the preceding week.

Before the lockdown started – on 27 March – the new confirmed coronavirus cases per day peaked at 243.

In the week following the lockdown, new confirmed COVID-19 cases plummeted to below 30 on some days.

The latest statistics from the health department revealed that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is now 1,585.

This is not what the government expected. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said they expected the total number of confirmed cases to have reached between 4,000 and 5,000 by now.

While the lower infection rate is encouraging, Mkhize warned there is no room for complacency.

He said the lull in new coronavirus cases may be “the calm before the devastating storm”.

The minister highlighted that they still don’t have a good understanding of infection rates in densely populated areas like townships.

He said the government will therefore embark on “wall to wall testing and finding all COVID-19 affected people in the country”.

He said this is needed to get a better understanding of where there are COVID-19 infections and break the cycle of transmission.

Professor Mosa Moshabela, dean of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Nursing and Public Health, told the Sunday Times that the situation is worse than what the numbers suggest.

He said the coronavirus outbreak has now reached townships and is moving into new populations and communities.

“From modelling we believe that while only 1,505 people are known to be infected, the actual number is 4,000. It’s estimated that by May 6 there will be over 100,000 infections,” he said.

Potential for less-restrictive measures

Ramaphosa has acknowledged, however, that drastic restrictions on daily life had a severe impact on the Chinese economy.

John Purchase, CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, said people continue to underestimate the future impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He told Food For Mzansi the coronavirus crisis is going to have a huge economic impact on the country.

“A number of businesses – and not just in agriculture, especially outside agriculture – will not survive. Some are already closing down,” he said.

He told Rapport he expects the lockdown restrictions to be extended, but hoped they would be less draconian.

He said international examples show that longer lockdown periods are needed, but with less stringent measures than what is currently enforced in South Africa.

BCG Statement

BCG has released a statement regarding its report, published in full below.

A BCG working document from more than a week ago, illustrating one scenario of how the COVID-19 virus might progress, has been circulating publicly without context or authorization from BCG. As clearly stated throughout the document, the presentation is not intended to constitute or substitute for medical or safety advice. Nor should it be seen as a formal endorsement of or recommendation for a particular response. The scenario and projections contained in the document vary by 100-1,000x, and reflect one range of possible outcomes, with clear recognition of how things may unfold differently.

This document does not represent an official BCG view and has not been authorized for public or media release by BCG. Press outlets citing the document have subsequently run corrections to clarify the above.

In supporting our clients in public and private sectors, BCG regularly does scenario planning for a range of issues. We analyze internally and externally gathered data to formulate these scenarios, and the data requires daily updates, given how fast the situation is changing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis. BCG continues to monitor the spread of COVID-19, and our priority remains the health and well-being of our people, our clients, and the communities where we operate. We are committed to doing our part to contribute—and will stand by and support our private and public sector clients throughout this crisis.

Now read: South Africa’s coronavirus stats – Why people should not become complacent

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Lockdown restrictions in South Africa can be extended by several weeks – Report