JOHANNESBURG (REUTERS) - South Africa will impose a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from midnight on Thursday to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday (March 23), as the number of confirmed cases jumped by 128 to 402.
Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation that South Africa needed to escalate its response dramatically to curb the spread of infection.
"From midnight on Thursday 26 March until midnight on Thursday 16 April, all South Africans will have to stay at home," Ramaphosa said.
People will still be able to go out to seek medical care, buy food or collect a social grant.
"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."
Ramaphosa said health workers, emergency personnel and security services would be among those exempt from the lockdown.
All shops and businesses will be closed except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, supermarkets, petrol stations and healthcare providers.
Soldiers will be deployed to support the police, and international travellers who arrived in South Africa after March 9 from "high-risk" countries will be confined to their hotels until they have completed a 14-day period of quarantine.
Furnaces and underground miners will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance, which means operations stop but are kept in a condition to resume in future.
Ramaphosa said a first phase of the government's economic response would include assisting businesses in distress and a package of more than 3 billion rand (US$170 million) of funding for industrial firms.
South Africa has the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa and public health experts are worried that it could overwhelm the health system if infection rates continue to rise.
The president earlier this month declared a national state of disaster over the virus, imposing travel bans affecting countries like China, Germany, Britain and the United States.
Elsewhere on the continent, Zimbabwe closed all its borders to human traffic except returning residents after reporting its first death from the coronavirus.
The government also banned public gatherings indefinitely.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, closed its land borders after also registering its first death. Ethiopia also closed its land borders.
Kenya's confirmed coronavirus cases rose by one to 16, while Senegal's tally rose by 12 to 79.
African finance ministers also called for a US$100 billion stimulus package, including a suspension of debt service payments.