Only a drastic lock-down can prevent SA from having “hundreds of thousands” of Covid-19 cases within weeks.

This was the dire warning from President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night, as he explained his government’s decision to act swiftly and decisively in implementing the 21-day lock down – which starts from midnight on Thursday.

“In South Africa, the number of confirmed cases has increased sixfold in just eight days, from 61 cases to 402 cases. This number will continue to rise. It is clear from the development of the disease in other countries, and from our own modelling, that immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions in our country,” he said.

“Our fundamental task at this moment is to contain the spread of the disease.

“Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands.

“This is extremely dangerous for a population like ours, which has a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and high levels of poverty and malnutrition.”

Ramaphosa continued that it was vital to “flatten the curve”, which means to delay the spread of the infection over a longer period of time to ensure the health system has the capacity to handle the possible number of cases.

“I’m concerned that a rapid rise in infections will stretch our health services beyond what we can manage, and many people will not be able to access the care that they need. We must therefore do everything within our means to reduce the overall number of infections and to delay the spread of infection over a longer period,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the lock down will kick in at midnight on Thursday and run until midnight on Thursday April 16.

“We have learnt a great deal from the experience of other countries. Those countries that have acted swiftly and dramatically have been far more effective in controlling the spread of the disease,” said Ramaphosa.

“As a consequence, the National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to enforce a nationwide lock down for 21 days with effect from midnight on Thursday March 26.

“This is a decisive measure to save lives of South Africans from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people. While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods. On the life of our society and on our economy. The human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater.

“All South Africans will have to stay at home.

“The nationwide lock down is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission across society. I have accordingly directed the South African National Defense Force to be deployed to support the South African Police Service in ensuring that the measures we are announcing are implemented.”