The Ministers of various national departments hosted a media briefing this afternoon [March 31] to inform the country of what measures have now been put in place to better handle the fallout and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister Jackson Mthembu welcomed everyone, and urged South Africans to continue to adhere to the lockdown rules President Cyril Ramaphosa had previously set out for all citizens.
“This virus has a death toll of 38 000 people worldwide,” he said. “Three people have died in South Africa. This virus kills.”
Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu noted that while the handing out of social grants across the country went largely smoothly, there were some hiccups.
“We would like to thank the community members who came to help without being asked, the retail sector, and the entire SASSA staff for all their help yesterday,” she said.
Some areas of the country ran out to cash to pay out the social grants to the elderly and disabled, but according to Zulu, the department is working with the National Treasury to ensure this issue will not arise again.
Zulu also broke the news that there were some who died on their way to or from a grant payout station.
One individual died in the Western Cape when they collapsed on the way home. Another individual died in KwaZulu-Natal as he arrived at the Post Office. A third elderly individual passed away just before she could make her way into the Post Office to collect her grant.
Assupol has donated R50 000 in funeral cover to each individual who had died, and Zulu said her department will also assist the affected families as best as they can, but there are regulations in place that must be followed.
The Department of Social Development has, for now, ruled out testing the elderly at SASSA grant collection points.
Minister of Employment and Labour Thembelani Nxesi clarified many matters that have confused employees in terms with what sort of leave is applicable during the lockdown period.
“This is a very unique situation,” Minister Nxesi said.
A new COVID-19 benefit fund has been set up to mitigate unfair lay-offs during the pandemic, which will work in conjunction with the UIF fund to cushion those who are retrenched or otherwise fired. This fund will be paid out by employers to mitigate a backlog of payments with UIF payout offices.
“UIF does not have the capacity to deal with millions of individual payments,” Nxesi added.
He also urged employers to remember that only essential service employees may still work from their physical place from work. Those who are able to work remotely are encouraged to do so.
“Bosses must not be greedy and make non-essential staff come to work unnecessarily,” he said. “Doing so is a criminal offense, as it endangers the lives of employees.”
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbulula announced various new interventions to better regulate travel in and out of South Africa, and also laid out the new regulations for cargo transportation to and from the country.
Only important cargo will be allowed to make its way in and out of South Africa, and this chiefly includes medical supplies and implements. All priority cargo will be sanitised as soon as it lands, and in the case of long-distant flights, the crew will be allowed to disembark and stay at demarcated hotels near the airport they landed at.
“At these hotels, they will have to adhere to strict quarantine regulations as not to endanger South Africans,” Mbulula said.
He also touched on the Queen Mary 2, which is currently drifting just off-shore from Durban. The luxury cruise liner was on its way to South Africa when the country’s government ban on welcoming international ships ashore was implemented.
A ShipMed doctor made their way to the cruise liner and tested the six South Africans aboard. All of them have tested negative for the coronavirus and will be the only people allowed to disembark.
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor informed the country of Dirco’s efforts to repatriate citizens who are still in foreign countries.
“Our missions in various countries are collecting as much data as possible, but I still believe we do not have enough information,” she said.
According to the Minister, there are 1 471 South Africans who find themselves in various countries around the world, and have expressed that they would like to return. Priority is being given to those who do not have the means to pay for accommodation, while those who are able to return with their own funds are encouraged to do so.
“I am sure there are many who we are not yet aware of who want to return home, and we encourage them to please make contact so that arrangements can be made,” Pandor said.