Health Minister Zweli Mkhize somewhat clarified what will and will not be allowed during the nationwide lockdown which will go into effect at midnight on Thursday, March 26 and continue for 21 days.
In an interview with the SABC, Mkhize said that walking, jogging and walking your dog outside alone should be fine during the lockdown. But gathering in groups at each other’s houses is not permitted.
However, these walks won’t be allowed in public places confirmed closed to the public, such as beaches and parks.
“What we really want to avoid is people congregating in large numbers and these big meetings where people are going to a place and cramping themselves up,” said Mkhize.
“What we also want to discourage, see people are going to be sitting at home. Now if you’re going to be sitting at home and you call all your friends and the whole group of you are sitting, coughing to each other, sitting very close to one another, drinking away, doing parties, and so on, you are causing problems.”
The Minister confirmed there would be a clearer list published which will inform the public of what exactly is allowed and not allowed during the lockdown period.
“If you will think that President Ramaphosa is just giving them a free holiday of three weeks and they can just go around galavanting, they must know that they actually will pay a price for that.”
COVID-19 testing in SA
Mkhize also clarified current testing conditions in the country. Until now, testing has been done on those who have a history of recent travel abroad and those showing symptoms. They are required to be referred to testing by a doctor, who they either saw privately or at a clinic.
He did confirm that they are in discussions to define new parameters for testing, as local transmission cases increase.
So far 12,000 tests have been carried out, of which 10,000 were done by private laboratories. Mkhize said that constraints on the availability of reagents for tests has made an increase in testing and testing at a district level impossible so far. Plans to remedy these constraints are being looked at as well.
COVID-19 treatment in SA
The internet has been inundated with news about various drugs being used to treat the virus. So far there is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19.
Mkhize confirmed that while there have been reports of various drugs being used to treat ill patients, these are all in their trial phases. The South African government is observing how these trials are going, but are not confirming the use of any specific drug to treat patients.
He also emphasised that 80% of patients present with mild symptoms that can be treated at home. Those that are being kept in hospital are treated for their symptoms, not the virus directly.
Rumours about anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen were also addressed, with Mkhize saying that currently there is no clear evidence that anti-inflammatories make the infection worse.
Lockdown success or failure
The lockdown has been put in place to avoid an increase in local transmission. But Mkhize says this will only be as successful as the government hopes if people commit to staying home.
He expressed a fear that should people ignore the warning to stay at home and rather use the lockdown as an opportunity to meet in groups, that South Africa could end the quarantine worse off than when it began.
“We’d like people to stay at home, that’s how we’re going to defeat the virus,” he said.