Police Minister Bheki Cele has urged the country's police officers to persevere amid trying times, as they continue to be at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister made the remarks while addressing police officers in Pretoria on Friday.
With infection rates soaring in the country, he warned members to brace themselves but keep safe.
"As you've seen and heard from the Minister of Health - the storm has finally arrived, so be prepared [and] it is still a long way to go. We are not near the end at all," he said.
Since March, 5000 officers have contracted the virus while 36 others have succumbed to COVID-19-related illnesses.
"As we, ourselves, continue to be part of this fight, we are also falling victim to the same war. We are also becoming infected, some of us are also succumbing to this deadly virus," Cele said.
The Minister said police and security sectors have been severely challenged by the pandemic.
The SAPS has over the last three months decontaminated and disinfected various affected police stations across the country. He reassured the members that the SAPS management was fully behind them as they continued to stand at the forefront of the fight against the spread of the virus.
Through the provincial and national steering committees - set-up as a response to the virus - the Minister emphasised police officers would continue to receive all the required support while performing their daily duties.
"Members, if you test positive, be reminded that you are not alone. Virtual psychological services and support will continue to be available as you self-isolate and recover," he said.
While the number of infections continues to rise in the country, this was equally affecting SAPS morale.
"It is increasingly becoming impossible to have a positive outlook on life, but remember you are in the frontline. You are the first to come, and you are the last to (leave)," he said.
He was saddened that those who had died would not be given fitting funerals due to lockdown regulations.
"Sadly, the COVID-19 has claimed 36 lives of our own from the very junior official up to General [level]. The sad situation is that we are not given the opportunity to honour those of us who have fallen. It's unfortunate," said the Minister.
Extending a hand to the families of the deceased, the Minister said they should find comfort in knowing that their loved ones died defending the country.
"You will be taken care off, as per SAPS protocol. The families must be taken care of because all the members that have succumbed have succumbed in the line of duty."
Despite these testing times, the Minister urged members to persevere. "Stay strong and remember: you are the frontline to defend the rest of us," he said.
In the past three months criminality has gradually increased, particularly in Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
"These are same areas where the crime is. Those are the same province where the criminals want to run amok. But up to this point, we have not lost sight of our core function, we are dealing with these criminals," he said.
This was also the case in the fight against gender-based violence.