Schools will be closed and a travel ban will be in place from Wednesday as SA tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
On top of this, all gatherings of more than 100 people will be “prohibited”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa made these announcements as part of the country's fight against the spread of coronavirus, which has now infected at least 61 people.
He said that this number was “expected to rise in the coming days and weeks”.
“Initially it was people who have travelled outside the country, especially Italy. It is concerning now that we are dealing with internal transmission of the virus,” he said, without providing further details.
"Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation," said Ramaphosa.
He said that, despite the religious, social and economic implications of the decisions, they were necessary because of the severity of the virus and its rapid spread.
He said there was no time for “half-measures”.
Ramaphosa said that to enforce “social distancing”, gatherings of more than 100 people would be prohibited and that mass celebrations of national days (including Human Rights Day) and other government events were cancelled.
Also, schools will be closed from Wednesday March 18 and will remain closed “until after the Easter weekend”.
Ramaphosa also announced strict travel bans on foreign nationals from high-risk countries, including Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and China — also effective from Wednesday.
“We have cancelled visas … and previously granted visas are revoked,” he said.
He also encouraged South Africans to refrain from travel to high-risk countries, and said that non-essential domestic travel — particularly via plane, train, bus and taxi — was discouraged.
"We have now declared a national state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act. This will enable us to have an integrated and coordinated disaster management mechanism that will focus on preventing and reducing the outbreak of this virus. We will also be able to set up emergency rapid and effective response systems to mitigate the severity of its impact," he added.