"If we ever had evangelists of a lockdown, you are our best evangelists."
This was what President Cyril Ramaphosa had to say to a lively group of 112 South Africans, who were quarantined at The Ranch Resort in Polokwane after they were repatriated from Wuhun, China, two weeks ago, where the novel coronavirus first emerged.
They have been given the go-ahead to head home.
Addressing them at the resort on Sunday, the president recalled that he was emotional the day the repatriates landed on South African soil.
He thanked them for co-operating with the repatriation mission, saying they were "a true representation of what being South African is all about".
Ramaphosa said the cost of the mission was not an issue for the government because it wanted to bring them home safely.
He added that he was pleased to learn that they had become a family at the resort, together with the staff who took care of them.
He praised the staff for the sacrifices they made.
"If we ever had evangelists of a lockdown, you are our best evangelists. We are now in Day 3 of a 21-day lockdown. I am sorry you are going into another lockdown. For you, it has been 51 days [in China] and then 14 days [in Limpopo]...and another 18 days [of the national lockdown].
"I am sorry, but you are the best campaigners for a lockdown because you, more than anyone else have seen, that a lockdown does work. And I would like you to spread the message to South Africans," Ramaphosa said.
He challenged the group to educate the public about how a lockdown and social distancing works in flattening the curve of the spread of the virus.
"This is the most dangerous virus and unless you are disciplined, like you have been, we will be consumed by this virus.
"I want you to go and spread the word and tell our compatriots that yes, coronavirus is a reality, but we must look after ourselves. I send you off back to your communities, knowing that you are coronavirus free."
Some of the students who formed part of the group expressed their gratitude to the government and the nation for the support they received.
They said they were humbled by the reception they encountered when they touched down at Polokwane International Airport and were ferried to the resort.
"I am so pleased to say now that I have new relatives that I never thought I would have ... we became a [loving family] during quarantine at Ranch Resort.
"KwaXhosa siyesithi, sibamba ngazo zozibini, nangamso (our deepest gratitude to you, may you never tire of the goodwill you've shown us). May the Lord turn his face towards every soul that helped to make this evacuation successful and those who continue working during this lockdown," a student from Lebode in the Eastern Cape read from a letter at the occasion.
Another student from Kroonstad in the Free State told broadcaster eNCA that during the lockdown in Wuhan, their movements were limited and they were forced to ration their meals based on what they already had at home.
"I don't know how many times I ate eggs," he said.
The student urged South Africans to take the virus seriously and abide by all the regulations to help curb its spread.