Updated: February 25, 2021
I’d like to welcome you all to this first Presidential Imbizo on Coronavirus.
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Whether you are watching on television or listening in on one of our community radio stations, thank you for taking the time to join me as we discuss the latest developments around the pandemic.
I look forward to taking your questions during this broadcast.
For nearly 100 days, we managed to successfully delay the spread of the virus by locking down the country.
We have now entered a new and treacherous phase in the life cycle of this pandemic.
The winter months are here, and as we had earlier predicted, the number of infections are rising, and they are rising fast.
A few months ago many of us could have said we didn’t know of anyone who is infected or anyone who has died. That is sadly not the case anymore.
We now have over 150,000 confirmed cases, of which a third were recorded in the last week.
New cases are being reported everywhere.
We are in the midst of a new surge of infections.
It is something our scientists have warned us of well in advance and is being experienced in other countries as well.
We have always understood that as more sectors open up, as more people return to work, that this was inevitable.
The reality is that we could not remain under lockdown forever. People need to earn a living. Learners need to continue with their education. Businesses need to reopen to survive and for their staff to keep their jobs.
The unemployment figures released recently worry us all.
It is urgent that we must restart the economy after this period of inactivity.
The lockdown has enabled us to do a number of things. We have been able to deploy a vast network of community health workers, and to scale up screening and testing.
We have been able to strengthen our health systems by making more beds available, build field hospitals and secure medical supplies and equipment.
As a result we are able to handle the rise in infections and to treat and care for those infected. We must remember that to date many people have recovered from the virus.
We have rolled out an extensive public awareness and education campaign about hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing.
We have been able to implement programmes and policies to support businesses and our people who have been out of work.
In the last few months funds, skills and resources have been mobilised across society to tackle this enormous challenge.
The Solidarity Fund, for example, has been vital in getting equipment and supplies to our frontline health workers.
The R500 billion relief package has been provided to both strengthen the capacity of our health system and to assist companies, workers and households that have been badly affected by the lockdown.
Banks and insurance companies are providing relief to many of their clients in distress, and all across society people are giving of their time to support this cause.
We have done everything we can to cushion our people from the ravages of hunger and poverty in the form of social grants and food parcels to vulnerable households.
I know that many of you listening are afraid of what the future holds for you in terms of work and earning a living.
In fact, you may fear this more than the virus itself.
As the Minister of Finance made clear last week, our economy will shrink, unemployment will rise, government will have to borrow more and, at least in the immediate term, South Africans will on average be poorer.
But even as our troubles mount, we can see a path to the recovery of our economy and the repair of our society.
Already we are making plans to rebuild our economy through bold and ambitious public investment in employment.
We are going to focus on infrastructure – construct roads, bridges, dams, water treatment plants, railway lines and houses to drive a substantial and lasting economic recovery.
Working with business and labour we are going to scale up existing employment initiatives and supported by new investment, create new ones.
We must not under-estimate the magnitude of the challenge we are facing, and we have to be realistic that it will take some time for our economy to recover.
What is important is that the work has begun, and we are confident that in the coming months we will begin to steadily see results.
Let us all play our part, as we have done over the past few months.
It has been a long three months of lockdown. We may be tempted to become relaxed or complacent. But we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic.
Coronavirus is part of our lives and will continue to be for some time to come. We must adapt to this reality.
We have all seen images being circulated of people having parties and social gatherings, and know of instances where the numbers of people at funerals or at congregational worship are being exceeded and no masks are being worn.
Tonight I implore all of you to embrace the regulations with the same vigour you did in the early days.
I ask you to be every conscious that it is our individual actions that impact the safety of others around you.
I ask you to remain vigilant.
Of course the rise in infections are making us all anxious. We need to know our workplaces are safe. We need to know our schools are safe.
But we are not helpless in the face of this virus, and if we take the necessary precautions we really do not have to be afraid.
If we act and work together, as communities, as church groups, as school governing bodies, as taxi associations, as unions, as businesses, as sports teams, we can make our everyday activities safer.
We will beat coronavirus. We will rebuild our economy. We will build a more just and a more equal society.
I look forward to our engagement.
Your feedback – on what is not going well and what must change – is of great help to us all in this national effort.
I thank you.