Ramaphosa tests negative for coronavirus as South Africa to begin lockdown

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he has tested negative for after taking the test as a precautionary measure.

The presidency said this in a statement on Thursday, hours before the start of a countrywide lockdown.

The statement said that the president underwent the test on Tuesday on the advice of physicians and received his results on Wednesday night, adding Ramaphosa had held meetings with a variety of people in recent weeks.

South Africa has 709 confirmed coronavirus cases, with no reported deaths.

The Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize has warned infections are expected to keep rising.

Ramaphosa has been praised for ordering some of the toughest measures on the continent, including a 21-day lockdown to begin on Friday morning from midnight.

He has deployed the army to support the police.

But the lockdown threatens to cripple an economy already beset by power cuts and shrinking since the end of last year.

“I’ve got two months cash in the bank. Nothing more. After that we close down,’’ Rajan Govender, 51, said at his family-run Indian restaurant in a Johannesburg suburb, as he prepared to send staff on compulsory paid leave.

“We can weather a few weeks, but not longer.’’

Mining and metal refining companies, the core of South Africa’s economy, are either reducing or shutting down production altogether.

Mines Minister, Gwede Mantashe said on Wednesday that South Africa will continue to process platinum group metals, even as gold, chrome, manganese are scaled down.

The rand has hovered around four year lows for the past two and a half weeks, and on Thursday it weakened from a brief respite, as relief faded over an announcement by the central bank of a quantitative easing programme.

State power utility Eskom has applied for its critical staff to be exempt from the stay at home order so electricity supplies will not be interrupted. It has said coal supplies are adequate.

Businesses are bracing for further damage from the lockdown, with Airlink becoming the latest local airline to suspend flights from midnight on Thursday.

State-owned South African Airways (SAA), already massively unprofitable and with an unsustainable debt burden, has also cancelled flights.

SAA’s creditors have authorised an extension of a deadline for the airline’s business rescue plan until May 29, the airline’s administrators said on Thursday.

(dpa/NAN)