South Africans will still remain under lockdown with a slight easing of restrictions on select economic and public activity as the country moves from national coronavirus alert Level 5 to Level 4.
As South Africa ends 28 days of a five-week lockdown which began on March 27, the country has a count of 3 953 cases and 75 deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic that has infected over 2 million people across the world.
On Thursday night President Cyril Ramaphosa said that while the lockdown has been effective in keeping numbers down, it cannot be sustained indefinitely, which is why the country will introduce a smart lockdown alert system that uses five levels to determine the movement restrictions that will be in place, based on how the virus is spreading and the healthcare system’s capacity to care for patients.
The country is currently under Level 5, with the highest risk of infection, requiring a nationwide lockdown. From May 1 the country will move to Level 4, where essential services including some businesses will be allowed to resume operations under very strict conditions.
In summary, the alert system is as follows:
- Level 5 means that drastic measures are required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives.
- Level 4 means that some activity can be allowed to resume, subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.
- Level 3 involves the easing of some restrictions, including on work and social activities, to address a high risk of transmission.
- Level 2 involves the further easing of restrictions, but the maintenance of physical distancing and restrictions on some leisure and social activities to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
- Level 1 means that most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times.
“To ensure that our response to the pandemic can be as precise and targeted as possible, there will be a national level and separate levels for each province, district and metro in the country.”
Ramaphosa reiterated that a gradual reopening of the economy and normalised public life cannot happen instantaneously, but requires a gradual and risk-adjusted approach informed by advice from scientists.
“We have decided on this approach because there is still much that is unknown about the rate and manner of the spread of the virus within our population,” said Ramaphosa.
Government has done an assessment on how industries rank in the various risk categories of infection.
Details will be provided by the relevant ministers, and industry bodies will be given an opportunity to make representations before new regulations are gazetted.
Level 4 for business
While some businesses will be allowed to return to operation, they will have to adhere to strict health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.
On May 1, businesses that are permitted to resume operations must do so “in a phased manner” – they will be required to first prepare workplaces for operation, after which they can ask employees to come back to work in batches of no more than a third each time.
Businesses with staff who can work remotely are encouraged to keep this in place.
“In some cases, a sector will not be able to return to full production during Level 4 while the risk of infection remains high,” said Ramaphosa, adding that details will be provided following final consultations next week.
Movement in Level 4
Borders will remain closed, passenger flights will only function for the repatriation of foreign nationals, and interprovincial travel is strictly prohibited – unless it is for the transportation of goods and in exceptional circumstances such as funerals.
While public transport will continue to operate, there will be limitations on the number of people in vehicles, and safety and hygiene protocols – such as all passengers having to wear masks – will remain in place.
“Those who are elderly, and those with underlying conditions, must remain at home and take additional precautions to isolate themselves,” said Ramaphosa.
Unless doing essential work or seeking essential services the general public is also encouraged to stay at home.
People will also be allowed to exercise under strict public health conditions.
Goods and services in Level 4
Ramaphosa has also lifted the ban on the sale of cigarettes (effective May 1), adding that additional items that can be sold will be revealed by the relevant ministers.
However, the president said irrespective of the coronavirus level in place there will be restrictions on certain activities that encourage a large gathering of people and where physical distancing will not be possible for as long as the risk of transmission is present.
As such, bars and shebeens will remain closed. Conference and convention centres, entertainment venues, cinemas and theatres will remain closed.
In addition concerts, sporting events, and religious, cultural and social gatherings will not be allowed.
“Ultimately, it is our own actions as individuals that will determine how quickly the virus spreads,” said Ramaphosa.
“If we all adhere to instructions and follow public health guidelines, we will keep the virus under control and will not need to reinstate the most drastic restrictions.”