Army will enforce coronavirus restrictions in South Africa if things get worse: health minister

The South African government could deploy the army to enforce restrictions if there is a large spike in coronavirus cases, says health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

If that does not work, the government will look at area-specific lockdowns to contain epicentres of the virus. And if still unsuccessful, a national lockdown will be the last resort before a state of emergency, he said in an interview with the Sunday Times.

“Right now it is restrictions. (We) might have to begin to bring in the army to go out and work around the people, talk to them about hygiene, getting them to go sanitise, and so on.”

“As we sit and look at the epidemiological spread of the infection, we would begin to isolate areas where it is worse.”

Mkhize said the government will be guided by the rate at which  the virus is spreading before deploying the army.

“There isn’t a number, but there is a pattern that we want to prevent, and that is the internal transmission exploding.”

On Wednesday (18 March), the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA)  gazetted a set of strict new regulations, empowering government to act against those who deliberately endanger themselves and others during the coronavirus epidemic.

The new Disaster Management Act regulations allow government to take action against groups and businesses that do not adhere to gatherings restrictions, as well as those who deliberately infect others with the Covid-19 virus or spread fake news about the outbreak.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa has increased to 240 as of Saturday (21 March).

The Western Cape has seen the greatest increase in reported coronavirus cases – up to 74 from 56 on Friday. However, Gauteng remains the province with the most reported cases, up to 125 from 109 on Friday. The Eastern Cape has also reported its first case.

At 07h00  on Sunday, global cases stood at 308,258 and 13.068 deaths. 95,828 people have recovered.