South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster to combat the spread of the coronavirus as his counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa took similar steps to curb the threat in a region that accounts for only 1% of global health-care spending.
Ramaphosa’s measures ranged from halting flights from nations struggling to control the virus, closing 35 of the country’s 53 land border posts, banning gatherings of more than 100 people and shutting schools from March 18. He also said the government plans economic interventions, without giving details.
“This situation calls for an extraordinary response,” he said in a televised speech on Sunday, urging South Africans to cooperate and work together to minimize the impact of the outbreak. “There can be no half measures.”
With a total of 62 infections, Ramaphosa said there is evidence of transmission within the country for the first time rather than just infections contracted by people who had traveled overseas.
“The greatest danger to our country at this time are fear and ignorance,” he said. “We cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by fear and panic.”
While sub-Saharan Africa has so far recorded relatively few local transmissions, most governments are reacting swiftly by restricting access, prohibiting religious and cultural events and closing schools. More than 300 people have so far tested positive for the coronavirus in 30 African countries, many of them recent travelers to Europe or the U.S.
Africa’s economic growth could slow to 1.8% this year from 3.2% as global supply chains are disrupted and investments drop, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Kenya, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burundi and Gabon also halted entry of travelers from countries most affected by the disease. The five nations will only allow in citizens and foreigners with residence permits provided they go into quarantine upon arrival. The Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles, which relies heavily on tourism, banned all crews and passengers of cruise ships from disembarking.