South Africa declares state of disaster over COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham/File Photo
A fan wears a face mask during a Super Rugby match between the Sharks and the Stormers as it was announced that Super Rugby will be put on hold after this weekend’s matches over the coronavirus outbreak in Durban, South Africa, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Rogan Wardrs

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on Sunday as he announced a range of measures to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has so far infected 61 and showed the first signs of internal transmission.

In a live television broadcast after a special cabinet meeting, Ramaphosa said the outbreak, first detected on March 5, could have a significant and “potentially lasting” impact on a struggling economy, which is already in recession.

Measures to be taken include travel bans to countries such as Italy, Germany, China and the United States. The government will also prohibit gatherings of more than 100 people and cancel large events and celebrations, he said.

“It is concerning we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus. This situation calls for an extraordinary response, there can be no half measures,” Ramaphosa said.

He said the government canceled visas to visitors from high-risk countries from Sunday, with previously granted visas also revoked.

“Any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa,” he said, adding that South Africans who visited targeted countries would be subjected to testing and quarantine when returning home.

First detected two weeks ago with a single positive result, the number of cases has risen to 61 by Sunday, a mushrooming rate that mirrors the rapid spread of the virus worldwide.