Fifty-five people were arrested on the first day of South Africa's coronavirus-induced lockdown, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Saturday, warning that those who violate the measure will face ‘the full might of the law.’
The country, which has become the nation in Africa worst-affected by the pandemic, introduced a three-week lockdown on Thursday night in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
People have been instructed to stay home unless they need to access essential services such as supermarkets and medical services. The country's borders are also closed.
Some of the 55 people arrested on Friday were having ‘street bashes,’ while others were caught sitting in groups and drinking alcohol, according to the South African Police Service.
‘This war we find ourselves in is not a war against any citizen of this country, but is a war against a common enemy, the coronavirus,’ Cele said. ‘Whoever breaks the law and chooses to join the enemy against the citizens will face the full might of the law.’
By Friday, South Africa had recorded 1,170 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the virus. Across the entire African continent, around 3,800 cases and at least 110 deaths have been reported, according to the World Health Organization.
South Africa had also reported two deaths, but Health Minister Zweli Mkhize later revised that to one, saying that a 28-year-old woman who had died with symptoms resembling Covid-19 tested negative.
The Covid-19 patient who passed away was a 48-year-old woman who also had a pulmonary embolism, according to Mkize.
Amid the health crisis, the Moody's ratings agency announced late Friday that it was cutting South Africa's credit rating down to junk level.
‘The decision by Moody's could not have come at a worse time,’ the South African National Treasury lamented in a statement.
The downgrade and the ‘financial market stress’ already caused by the coronavirus crisis will ‘truly test South African financial markets,’ it added.
‘To say we are not concerned and trembling in our boots about what might be in the coming weeks and months is an understatement,’ the statement quoted Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as saying.
‘However, every crisis presents an opportunity,’ he added. ‘The opportunity we have today is to unite and work together to address our challenges.’
The decision by Moody's means that all three of the major international ratings agencies now rate South Africa's creditworthiness at junk level. Standard & Poor's and Fitch had already downgraded the country.
A state's creditworthiness affects for instance the level of interest rates it will be offered on loans.
Moody's pointed to the ‘continuing deterioration in fiscal strength and structurally very weak growth’ in South Africa as the main factors behind its decision.
But it also noted that ‘the unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will exacerbate South Africa's economic and fiscal challenges and will complicate the emergence of effective policy responses.’
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