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Ramaphosa: Lockdown averted a catastrophe in SA

The president told Parliament that if the government had not acted decisively, the country could have seen a much higher COVID-19 infection rate and many thousands of deaths.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS.

CAPE TOWN - President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday defended what the Democratic Alliance (DA) had labelled the “longest, hardest, and most brutal lockdown” in the world.

The president told Parliament that if the government had not acted decisively, the country could have seen a much higher COVID-19 infection rate and thousands of deaths with health services completely overwhelmed.

Ramaphosa acknowledged the impact on the economy and people’s livelihoods, saying South Africans had to learn to live with COVID-19 as it would be around for a long time.

He was responding to parliamentarians by way of a virtual platform during his first question and answer session since the lockdown began on 27 March.

Ramaphosa has told MPs how Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize had warned the virus would get out of control unless there was swift action to contain its spread

“And we paused for a while – Dr Mkhize called me twice a day to say we now have so many, we have so many [cases] - and even as he did my heart started racing more and more, realising the waiting situation we were under. It was then that Cabinet decided we needed to act quickly, it was a collective decision,” the president said.

Ramaphosa said it had also proved to be the correct decision.

At the time, the infection rate was doubling every two days and now it was only doubling every 12 days.

“A prolonged delay in implementing stringent measures would have meant that South Africa would have missed the window of opportunity to achieve a significant flattening of the curve. This could have led to a ran away epidemic with potentially catastrophic consequences for our healthcare services,” Ramaphosa said.

WATCH: Ramaphosa responds to question in Parly

The president said a continued lockdown would have decimated the South African economy.

He said the country had no choice but to ease regulations while increasing the health capacity to manage those infected with COVID-19.

The president said the continued lockdown had left the country with an almost R300 billion hole because of the closed economy.

He was responding to EFF leader Julius Malema who had asked whether any scientific evidence supported the easing of the lockdown.

Ramaphosa said as much as COVID-19 was a dark cloud, it did have a silver lining.

“I encourage South Africans to check the labels of everything they buy to see where it is made. We must check if all items we purchase can be manufactured locally and cheaper. Government must encourage and support local manufacturing in all ways we can,” he said.

At the same time, Ramaphosa said he was “keeping a hawk's eye” on how the country’s R500 billion economic social relief package would be spent.

He said he was concerned about corruption in government’s spending to fight COVID-19 and he had asked the Auditor General to monitor the spending.

“We are going to ensure that the R500 billion is distributed in a way where we minimise corruption as much as possible. We will keep a hawk’s eye on how that is going to happen,” Ramaphosa said.

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