South Africa will be moving to Covid-19 alert Level 3 on June 1 but coronavirus hotspots could slip back to more restrictive levels should the virus not respond to government’s targeted interventions.
This was according to President Cyril Ramaphosa in a televised speech on Sunday night.
Over the past week, Ramaphosa held various meetings with cabinet, the National Coronavirus Command Council, social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council and other key political and societal stakeholders about the easing of the lockdown restrictions.
In his address, Ramaphosa said while there were areas of difference, the conditions under which the country would ease the lockdown had been broadly accepted by the different groups.
Prior to the consultations Ramaphosa had said that certain districts in the country with a high level of infection and transmission would remain at Level 4 while “most” parts of the country move to Level 3.
However, now that the consultations have been concluded the government has decided to adopt a “differentiated approach” to the identified hotspots where the virus is concentrated and infections are on the rise.
An area is considered a hotspot is it has more than five infected people per 100 000 people and has infections that increase at a rapid rate. The list of hotspot areas will be reviewed on a two-week basis.
Currently, the following metropolitan areas are on the hotspot list:
- Nelson Mandela Bay
- Buffalo City, and
- Cape Town.
Other areas identified as hotspots include the West Coast, Overberg and Cape Winelands district municipalities in the Western Cape. Chris Hani District in the Eastern Cape and iLembe district in KwaZulu-Natal are also on the list.
Read: WC and GP talk about a move to Level 3
Although these areas will see a return to operations in most sectors and the removal of restrictions on people’s movement, they will be placed under “enhanced measures of surveillance, infection control and management”.
Each hotspot will be assigned a full team of health experts that will be supported by Cuban doctors.
“Should it be necessary, any part of the country could be returned to alert levels 4 or 5 if the spread of infection is not contained despite our interventions and there is a risk of our health facilities being overwhelmed,” said Ramaphosa.
The time restrictions on exercise as well as the curfew will be removed from June 1.
The sale of alcohol for home consumption will be permitted under “strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours,” said Ramaphosa.
Details on this will be announced soon.
Read: Easing of South Africa lockdown may bring no respite for smokers
However, there will be no sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products because of the “health risks associated with smoking”.
Gatherings for recreational purposes will not be permitted, barring funerals and work meetings with fewer than 50 people.
Level 3 in the workplace
The return to work will be done in accordance with a phased-in approach to give employees time to get “coronavirus-ready” as up to eight million people return to work in June.
“It must be done in a manner that avoids and reduces risk of infection,” said Ramaphosa.
Sector protocols will be developed and businesses are required to have a workplace plan outlining the health and safety standards that have been put in place prior to reopening their operations.
“Companies will need to put in place sanitary and social distancing measures and facilities; they will need to screen workers on arrival each day, quarantine those who may be infected and make arrangements for them to be tested,” said Ramaphosa.
“They also need to assist with contact tracing if employees test positive.”
Employees over the age of 60 or who have conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer have been advised to stay at home.
What is open?
All manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, information technology, communications, government services and media services will be fully operational.
Wholesale and retail shops will be fully operational and e-commerce will remain open.
Read: Economic devastation: It’s not the virus, but the lockdown, stupid!
Ramaphosa said the government is still considering proposals sent by the tourism and hospitality sectors whose operations will remain largely closed in Level 3 as the services are “high-risk” and do not allow for social distancing. This includes in-house dining at restaurants and bars, accommodation, flights and personal care and beauty services.
South Africa has over 11 000 active coronavirus cases, with 842 of these in hospital and 128 in intensive care. To date, the country has confirmed 22 583 cases of the virus. Over half of those diagnosed have recovered.
“The number of infected people could have been much higher had we not acted when we did to impose drastic containment measures,” said Ramaphosa. “We are consequently in a much better position than many other countries were at this stage in the progression of the disease.”
The worst is yet to come
He stressed that the worst is yet to come and unless there’s a vaccine, the country would have to learn to live with the virus.
“The duration, scale and impact of the pandemic depends on our actions as a society and on our behaviour as individuals.”
Earlier this week projections by some experts advising the Department of Health said the country will see 30 000 Covid-19 cases by the end of May and that an estimated 40 000 people will die by November.