CAPE TOWN, March 24 (Xinhua) -- The South African government on Tuesday assured the public of sufficient food supplies amid signs of panic buying as a national lockdown looms over the novel coronavirus.
"As a nation, we boast for being self-sufficient in food production, and a part of this year's supply is yet to be harvested - which promises to be a bumper field crop and citrus harvest - and these processes will continue as normal as a foundation of South Africa's food system," said Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
Didiza was speaking after President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night declared a 21-day nationwide lockdown, to be effective midnight on Thursday.
The decalaration sparked panic buying across the country. Many commodities, particularly food items, sanitizers and toilet paper, have been sold out in many shops.
"I appeal to the public not to embark on panic buying, as the president has indicated," Didiza said.
"The country has sufficient food supplies. Panic buying will only cause disruptions and inconvenience in the food system," she said.
The lockdown will affect several businesses, but the agriculture and food supply sector is one of essential systems for livelihood and therefore will remain operational, said Didiza.
"Our food supply system will remain functional during this period. Agricultural production in all its forms will remain uncompromised," the minister said in a statement.
This includes all services including provision of veterinary and advisory services, she added.
Under the lockdown, most shops will be closed except for pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers.
Individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant.
The lockdown, however, will not affect live auctions of livestock and sale of other agricultural commodities, Didiza said.
"Our food supply system will remain functional during this period," she said.
Exports and imports of critical agriculture commodities and the logistical measures will continue during this lockdown period to ensure global and national food security, said Didiza.
To ensure that food prices not be inflated, price monitoring will be conducted on critical food basket commodities and reports will be given to the nation on regular bases, the minister said.
Didiza said her ministry has set aside a package of 1.2 billion rand (about 65 million U.S. dollars) to address effects of the coronavirus and ensure sustainable food production post the pandemic.