Show compassion, not bigotry, says Ramaphosa, as opposition parties support call to action

16 March 2020 - 08:27 By TimesLIVE
President Cyril Ramaphosa has asked citizens to be responsible and compassionate in helping to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has asked citizens to be responsible and compassionate in helping to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Image: GCIS/ELMOND JIYANE

“It is in times of adversity that our strength is revealed,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday, a day after announcing a national state of disaster to counter the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

He appealed for a collective effort from South Africans, asking citizens to adopt heightened hygiene measures and, as the Easter and May Day long weekends approach, cancel non-essential travel.

“We must also not give in to the expressions of bigotry that we have seen in other countries directed at nationals of countries from where the outbreak began or the current epicentre in Europe,” said the president in his weekly newsletter.

“This is clearly a virus that affects people of all nationalities. Let us lower the wing of compassion to those who are infected and to those who have returned home from high-risk countries. Let us assist those in need and those more vulnerable, instead of shunning them.”

Cabinet is finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate the expected impact of Covid-19 on the economy, the president said, adding that government was consulting with business and labour.

“ ... This virus will be extremely disruptive and our priority is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all South Africans.

“We also have to address the inevitable economic fallout.

“We must expect a decline in exports, a drop in tourist arrivals and a severe impact on production, business viability and job creation and retention.”

Ramaphosa urged everyone in the country to play their part in countering the spread of the virus, as government ensured an integrated and co-ordinated disaster management mechanism.

“We will act as a collective, for it is upon the actions of every South African that the success of our efforts depends.”

This stance was shared by the DA's interim leader, John Steenhuisen, who said: “Now, more than ever, we must put politics aside if we are going to succeed in the fight against Covid-19.

“This is a crisis of the collective affecting us all either directly or indirectly. We must band together to formulate a collective response to this virus to overcome it.”

Good secretary-general Brett Herron said the party supported the interventions announced by the president on Sunday night.

“The intrusion and inconvenience of these measures, under a state of disaster, are warranted.

“Our country is called upon to act in solidarity with each other and in pursuit of the common purpose.

“We call on every person who calls SA home to do their part in containing this virus and getting SA through this crisis.”

Advising people not to panic, Ramaphosa assured the country that SA had a positive track record in managing public health emergencies.

“We have the knowledge, the means and the expertise. Our scientists and epidemiologists are world-class ... We have put a raft of emergency measures in place and will make funding available to support their implementation.”

Measures announced by Ramaphosa on Sunday night include travel bans on visitors from high-risk countries; mandatory testing, self-isolation or quarantine for South Africans returning from these countries; and strengthening surveillance, screening and testing at ports of entry. The closure of 35 land ports and two seaports has also been announced.

Gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited and mass celebrations of national days are cancelled.

Visits to all correctional centres have been suspended for 30 days, schools are breaking up early, as are several universities.

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