Last night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that as part of the effort to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus, South Africa would enter a 21-day lockdown from midnight on Thursday.
“From midnight on Thursday 26 March until midnight on Thursday 16 April, all South Africans will have to stay at home,” President Ramaphosa stated.
There are several exceptions to the lockdown: essential services will continue to operate and people will be allowed to go out to buy groceries and medicine.
While there are many questions about the lockdown that the government will be clarifying throughout the week, a major point of confusion was the President’s statement regarding the midnight start to the lockdown.
Does this mean that the first day of the lockdown is Thursday, starting at 00:00 on 26 March? Or does it mean Friday is the first day, starting at 00:00 on 27 March?
Many people understood “midnight on Thursday” to mean the end of Thursday, while many others understood it to mean the more technically accurate 00:00 — the start of Thursday.
When the lockdown will start
As a result of the confusion, the head of digital communications in the Presidency, Athi Geleba, posted an infographic to Twitter which states:
The lockdown will begin on the evening of Thursday 26 March at 23:59.
Geleba’s infographic was in the style of the infographics posted to the official Twitter account of the Presidency of South Africa. However, the @PresidencyZA account did not post this infographic clarifying the starting time of the lockdown.
In addition to the infographic circulating on Twitter, the spokesperson to the President, Khusela Diko, also told News24 that the lockdown will begin at 23:59 on Thursday evening.
“Day one of the lockdown will be Friday,” Diko reportedly said.
MyBroadband contacted Diko for comment, and the Presidential spokesperson confirmed that Friday will be the first day of the lockdown.
Clear language during crisis
The confusion over something as basic as when the lockdown will start illustrates how important clear, explicit, unambiguous language is. Even more so during a time of crisis.
To avoid the ambiguity of the word “midnight”, you can do the following:
- Since midnight is the point at which one day becomes the next, you can say “midnight Thursday/Friday” when speaking to avoid confusion.
- When writing, don’t use 00:00 or 24:00. While it is correct to use 00:00 in countries like South Africa where people are familiar with 24-hour clock notation, it still confuses people. “After 23:59 on Thursday, 26 March” avoids all ambiguity.