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Ignore new rumour of level 5 Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa

It is “believed” that South Africa will return to level 5 of the Covid-19 lockdown “for a period of 7 days starting tomorrow midnight”, claims a message circulating widely on WhatsApp and Facebook in early January 2021.

“The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) will be meeting this afternoon,” it says, with president Cyril Ramaphosa set to address the nation – and announce stricter lockdown measures – some time afterwards.

“Its [sic] a total lockdown for a week,” the message concludes. But is it correct? It gives no evidence that lockdown measures will be strengthened, nor any specific dates.


Out of date, out of context

Large parts of the message have been copied from a 27 December 2020 article on South African news site News24. Except it excludes important context in the News24 report.

The message gives no dates, but the News24 article says the NCCC meeting was due to take place on 27 December. The presidential address mentioned is likely Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on 28 December, in which he announced that adjusted level 3 lockdown regulations would be implemented “with immediate effect”.

Details from the News24 article seem to have been combined with an earlier message posted to social media. The resulting message was first shared on 27 December 2020, but began to circulate again a week later, on 3 January 2021.

Several details copied from News24 are now no longer accurate. These include the claim that “Covid-19 cases which has [sic] now risen by a record 14,000 over the past 24 hours”.

South Africa first reported more than 14,000 new Covid-19 cases on 23 December 2020. The exact number, recorded by the World Health Organization a day later, was 14,064 new cases. Higher numbers have since been reported: the health department announced 18,000 new cases on 31 December.

‘No planned NCCC meeting’ when message first posted

And the parts of the message not copied from News24 are false. It cites an anonymous “source from the Presidency”, but public officials have dismissed it.

On 3 January Phumla Williams, director general of the Government Communication and Information System, tweeted that the message was “fake” and that there was “no planned NCCC meeting”.

This was retweeted by the government’s verified Twitter account.

On 5 January, days after the message started circulating, Williams did announce that a meeting of the NCCC would take place on 6 January.

She said the meeting would not necessarily be followed by a presidential address, and told news site EWN that it was a regular sitting of the NCCC – not an emergency meeting.

The early January message on social media is partly taken from an out of date news report. And its additional claim about a supposed NCCC meeting to strengthen lockdown regulations was dismissed by government officials. 

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