President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on South Africans to come together with a measured and cohesive response to limit the spread of Covid-19.

“Given the scale and the speed at which the virus is spreading, it is now clear that no country is immune from the disease or will be spared its severe impact,” hhe says. “Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation.”

As the first internally-transmitted infections are recorded in South Africa, cabinet has declared a national state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act.

“This will enable us to have an integrated and coordinated disaster management mechanism that will focus on preventing and reducing the outbreak of this virus,” the President says.”

The following measures are to be implemented:

* A travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and China as from 18 March 2020. Visas to visitors from these companies have been cancelled. South African citizens are advised to refrain from all forms of travel to or through the European Union, US, UK and other identified high-risk countries such as China, Iran and South Korea.

* Any foreign national who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa. South African citizens returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to testing and self-isolation or quarantine on return to South Africa.

* Travellers from medium-risk countries – such as Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore – will be required to undergo high intensity screening.

* Screen at the international airports have been intensified; 35 land ports have been closed and eight sea ports closed for passengers and crew changes.

* All non-essential travel for all spheres of government outside of South Africa is prohibited; and all non-essential domestic travel, particularly by air, rail, taxis and bus is discouraged.

* Gatherings of more than 100 people will be prohibited, including celebrations of upcoming national days.

* Where small gatherings are unavoidable, organisers will need to put in place stringent measures of prevention and control.

* Schools will be closed from Wednesday, 18 March, and will remain closed until after the Easter Weekend. To compensate, the mid-year school holidays will be shortened by a week.

* Hygiene control at public facilities is being strengthened.

* Visits to all correctional centres are suspend for 30 days with immediate effect.

* Businesses, shopping centres and entertainment centres are urged to ensure that they take all necessary measures to intensify hygiene control.

Government is strengthening its surveillance and testing systems; identifying isolation and quarantine sites in each district and metro; increasing capacity at designated hospitals in all provinces; and increasing the capacity of existing contact tracing processes.

It is also undertaking a mass communication campaign on good hygiene and effective prevention behaviour.

In line with this, the President calls on citizens to:

* Wash their hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitisers for at least 20 seconds;

* Cover their nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or flexed elbow;

* Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms;

* Use an elbow greeting rather than shaking hands.

Government has committed to make funding available to capacitate the sectors dealing with the national response to the outbreak; and established a National Command Council chaired by the President.

To help mitigate the economic impact of the virus, cabinet is finalising a package of interventions that will consist of various fiscal and other measures, to be decided on in consultation with business, labour and other relevant institutions.

President Ramaphosa stresses that one of the greatest dangers to our country at this time are fear and ignorance. “We must appreciate the extent of the threat that this disease presents, we must accept the anxiety that it causes, but we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by fear and panic.

“We should stop spreading fake and unverified news and create further apprehension and alarm.

“While we are facing a medical emergency far graver than we have experienced in recent times, we are not helpless,” he adds. “We have the knowledge, the means and the resources to fight this disease.

“If we act swiftly, with purpose and collectively we can limit the effects of the coronavirus on our people and our country.

“Although we may be limiting physical contact, this epidemic has the potential to bring us closer together. We are responding as a united nation to a common threat.”

“It is true that we are facing a grave emergency. But if we act together, if we act now, and if we act decisively, we will overcome it.”

Government has set up a 24/7 Covid-19 hotline at 0800 029 999.