Several amendments to South Africa’s Covid-19 national lockdown rules, which will see more businesses allowed to operate during the lockdown, were announced by government ministers during a Covid-19 National Command Council briefing in Pretoria on Thursday.
The amendments will see certain key industries such as mining, oil refineries and ports being allowed to partially resume operations or increase production ahead of the lifting of the lockdown.
In addition, several other businesses, such as DIY stores, locally-based call centres servicing international clients; call centres handling finance and insurance queries for retailers; as well as “essential service” repair and maintenance providers such as electricians, plumbers and mechanics will now be able to operate during the lockdown on a restricted basis.
Addressing the briefing, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, stressed that the “loosening” of some trade restrictions was part of a phased approach in lifting the lockdown. However, she cautioned that some measures would remain in place beyond the lockdown.
“Everything won’t immediately be back to normal after the lockdown,” she warned.
“When we do stop the lockdown, we cannot do it abruptly – that today we’re in complete lockdown [and] tomorrow it’s open completely … We have to phase-in so that there is an orderly move towards normality.”
The national lockdown, which is targeted at restricting the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and has forced thousands of businesses to close, was extended from 21 days to 35 days by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week.
With Thursday, April 30, now being the last day of the lockdown, and May Day being a public holiday, the first full business day is likely to be Monday, May 4. However, some restrictions to trade, travel and the size of events are likely to remain in place for a while until government gets a better understanding of the growth trajectory of the virus in the country.
Dlamini-Zuma noted at the briefing that with the lockdown being extended, special regulations relating to it have now also been extended to the end of April.
“We are not coming up with many new [lockdown] regulations, we are extending the regulations that exist … However, we [are] announcing a few amendments to those regulations,” she said.
She added that further amendments will be made each week for a gradual relaxation of the lockdown rules.
On South Africa’s ports, Dlamini-Zuma said they would now be allowed increase operations beyond essential services. This is in order to deal with cargo that may be stuck at the ports, so there aren’t major bottlenecks once the lockdown comes to an end.
Giving some detail on the relaxation of lockdown rules around mining operations, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said mines that had to shut would now be allowed to restart operation up to 50% capacity.
He noted that coal mines suppling Eskom with coal for its power stations needed to operate as normal from the start of the lockdown due to these mines being regarded an essential service. However, the mines had to institute stringent measures around preventing the spread of Covid-19.
Other mining operations, such as gold and platinum, that are being allowed to restart operations will now also have to follow these stringent measures.
Even though these mines can restart production ahead of the end of the lockdown, Mantashe said in response to a question that he believed SA’s mining sector would only be back to full capacity in “deep May”.