My Timeline Leading Up to the South African Lockdown

Just five months to go until I have to renew my Life Partner Visa, and now I can’t return to the United States even if I wanted to

Laurrel Allison
8 min readApr 4, 2020


Today marks the 8th day of the 21-day lockdown in South Africa in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in its midst. Hailed as a “ruthless” decision to have been made, this lockdown consists of many rules. And breaking them means having to shell out up to R5000 (around $262 at the moment) in fines or spending time in jail. To give a rough breakdown, the rules are as follows:

  • Everyone must work from home unless their work is deemed as essential
  • Everyone must stay inside their home unless their activity is deemed as essential
  • Nobody is allowed to jog or walk their dog inside their complex/estate or outside
  • Ubers are set to only be available for 8 hours in total twice a day; those using the Ubers must have an essential reason for using the Uber
  • No food is allowed to be delivered (Uber Eats refunded my Uber Eats Pass due to this)
  • No non-essential goods are to be delivered or sold; this has meant that local shops, stores, and malls have had to shutter their doors unless they have pharmaceutical or food goods being sold. Takealot, a popular Amazon-esque online business was down from Thursday, March 26th (the day before the lockdown was to be carried out) to the following Monday eliminating their non-essential goods from being able to be purchased. No headphones, no Bluetooth speakers, and no cat litter (much to my dismay)
  • Citizens must remain inside their municipality. This one is tricky for my partner and I, because his parents live 40 minutes away in a separate municipality. That we can cope with, since we are forbidden to visit them anyways. But on top of that, our doctor armed with hefty flu vaccines is unable to administer them to us because we aren’t sure whether we can break this rule for the sake of an essential service. And we aren’t keen to shell out thousands of Rands in case we end up losing in this weird game of Russian roulette.

The first few days of learning the slow severity of the epidemic’s path took a bit to really register to me. I thought it would be interesting to illustrate this with a timeline.

March 4th, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I heard about the virus in Wuhan. I bought 2 Ciscle pens off Amazon so I could get the pens here and start figuring out how to draw before Ciscle stopped stocking them in case part of their supply chain was in China.

March 13th, I bought 2 Respro masks for my partner and I. At that point, the shop was already only open during certain intervals as they scurried to restock masks in time for the next wave. At the time of writing, the website has stated it is closed to new orders and does not know when it will be able to reopen.

March 15th, my partner and I visited a few different stores in our area in order to find one that had toilet paper still stocked after learning about what was happening in the States.

March 16th, I was trying to see if plane tickets had dropped yet due to the airlines scrambling to stay afloat (they hadn’t). I watch the entirety of the Bernie-Biden debate, an eerie thing to see since it took place without an audience.

March 17th, I read a distressing article explaining how each State was working on implementing regulations to avoid the spread of COVID-19 since there was no word from the White House on what to do.

March 19th, I bought my cat an extra bag of food even though she wouldn’t be needing it for at least a week. We begin stocking up on food in the fridge. I update my STEP notifications information so that they’re aware I am in South Africa during this time. They send me a Health Alert.

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March 21st, I purchased a bunch of stuff from Takealot so I could be properly prepared without having to leave the house and go to various shops and use public transportation. I also bought approximately 24 cans of beer and 24 cans of tonic because the liquor stores on Uber Eats are all out. This will be important later. This is also the day a rumor began circulating locally that spoke of an impending lockdown taking place. I couldn’t verify the source nor could I find any other information about this potentially occurring. Local businesses use the opportunity to create clever marketing schemes.

March 23rd, dropped off by my partner as he heads into work, I run a quick errand in the morning. On the way home, the Uber driver thanks me profusely for riding with him. It’s nearly 2 pm, and I was his second trip since 4 am that morning. In the afternoon, my partner and I go on another grocery run. Afterwards, President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses South Africa to inform them on what precautions will be carried out. It will be a 21-day lockdown, where everyone must self-isolate and practice social distancing measures when they must venture out for essentials. This is the first time the lockdown is mentioned. It is said to begin on Thursday, March 26th, at midnight (so, Friday). Plenty of people being told to stay home instead explore their city and visit the beaches.

March 25th, my order of beer and tonic arrives. I’m distraught to find that I purchased a wrong kind of beer. I scurry back to Takealot to order another 24 cans and a charger for my suffering FitBit.

March 26th, word has gotten out that liquor stores will be closed for the duration of the lockdown, due to them not being deemed essential. Tobacco sales will also be forbidden. It’s suddenly Black Friday for liquor stores across the country, and I’m relieved I stocked up for my beer and gin and tonic hankerings beforehand. After my second Takealot package arrives, I check the site but it’s disabled all payment methods while the stock is rearranged. It’s the last day that I can order Uber Eats due to the announcement banning takeaway, but I realize this too late to do anything as everything is taken offline at 11:30. STEP has issued their third email about the lockdown, clarifying some questions about it. This is also when they begin sending out once (sometimes twice) daily emails with information for Americans abroad in case they wish to evacuate. I got another one while writing this. Airlines have fewer and fewer flights, and the STEP emails let me know that if I want to return to the States, I may have to deal with flight cancellations and may not end up very close to my final destination.

March 27th, it’s the first day of lockdown. The first person to get arrested during the lockdown is a man attempting to cycle from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

It’s been a surreal time for me, to put it mildly. For a few days around the time I updated my STEP notifications, I was worried I’d be deported for some reason. I heard of visas being revoked from Americans, and I was stressed that mine would be too. I read every new article on the South African government website, every one on the American Consulate site, and I pored over every comment in the South African subreddit as a last resort. My research told me that I was in the clear, that it was visitor visas being revoked, not my Life Partner one.

Still, I remained glued to the news. The primaries and the debates that had been the #1 priority on my radar seem like they were ages ago, but the last full debate I watched before everyone dropped out was on February 25th.

I haven’t left my house or been to the grocery store for four days now. When we last went, it was empty save for a few customers milling about and swinging wildly away from me to avoid contact. One woman walked around holding her scarf up to conceal the lower half of her face. An interesting new development was that the store was freshly stocked with tuna and toilet paper, a scarcity not available the prior Woolworths visit. Police patrol the streets to ensure that nobody is out of line. Everyone walking around the city is carrying something, presumably groceries.

Nowadays, I browse the news with partial interest. There is nothing new to be said there. There is still a pandemic enveloping the globe. There is still no cure for it. People are still diagnosed, declared recovered, or passing away on the daily.

Here in South Africa, the number is drifting slowly towards 2,000 but I don’t think we’ll be able to see a true slow down for a couple more weeks, when asymptomatic people who had the virus finally start showing symptoms. And so far it’s just been…boring. My partner confessed today he does seem “drawn”, and that he just might actually start reading due to boredom. So I made him read this article as a second set of eyes before publication. Luckily, I’m used to being cooped up in the house as I work and entertain myself.

I acutely remember on March 9th, before all of this started getting bad, I had to amp myself up to visit the mall. I so dreaded going out to be around people in general, even for an hour, that I looked up all the shops I needed to hit beforehand and worked out the most efficient way to get my shopping done. All the memes circulating about introverts reveling in not being allowed to leave the house truly do speak to my soul. But I know that isn’t close to being the case

Laurrel Allison is an American writer traveling around the world. Follow Laurrel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see what she’s doing and where she is.



Laurrel Allison

Founder of Copy Fox Pro. Writer, cat parent, entrepreneur. Connect with me: