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Five ways the new coronavirus outbreak will change South Africa

From how and when you ride to what you imbibe: Take a quick look at the far-reaching powers of the state in the time of the new virus.

In case you missed it, South Africa has now more than 60 reported cases of the new coronavirus, named Sars Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) — “Sars” because of its similarity to the virus responsible for the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in China. The virus gives rise to the disease called COVID-19.

1. Even unnecessary local travel is a no-no

The country has also joined others such as the United States in issuing travel bans from high-risk countries.

South Africa will also close ports of entry that don’t have the capacity to screen for COVID-19 symptoms and that link it to its neighbours.

2. The government can now take extraordinary measures to control the virus — including controlling the movement of people and booze

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a “national state of disaster” in terms of the country’s Disaster Management Act. The Act allows government to make extraordinary regulations to protect the public or property or to deal with the effects of a disaster.  

What does this mean? The state can override some of the day-to-day freedoms people enjoy, regulating movement as well as the availability of alcohol.

If the government needs still more power, it will declare a state of emergency. 

3. The virus is likely to disrupt court hearings in the country

…And local elections in South Africa

4. Ramaphosa has also banned gatherings of more than 100 people. Schools and some universities are closing. The outbreak is also changing how people worship.

5. Following the money: The coronavirus outbreak will also shift some money away from HIV and TB programmes

One of our main donors for these conditions,  the US President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (Pepfar), will allow South Africa to reprioritise some of the R10-billion it receives for the twin epidemics to fight the new coronavirus. 

Laura Lopez Gonzalez is a freelance health journalist and editor. She was Bhekisisa's news editor then deputy editor between 2016 and 2020.