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SA lockdown relaxed: what you can and can’t do

Staff Reporter

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced an easing of the national coronavirus lockdown that will see a partial reopening of the economy on May 1, with travel restrictions relaxed and some industries allowed to operate under a risk-adjusted system.

South Africa has spent nearly month under a lockdown which severely limited the movement of people and effectively closed the country’s borders and brought the economy to a standstill, leaving many struggling without wages and short of supplies.

Addressing the nation on Thursday night – just a few hours after it was announced that South Africa now has 3 953 confirmed COVID-19 cases including 75 deaths – Ramaphosa said the government had decided to relax the lockdown in an attempt to kick-start the economy.

“We have . . . decided that beyond Thursday, 30 April, we should begin a gradual and phased recovery of economic activity,” he said.

His televised address followed a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council he held earlier and consultations with several stakeholders including leaders of political parties represented in Parliament.

The president said government will implement a risk-adjusted strategy with a deliberate and cautious approach to the easing of current lockdown restrictions.

“Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living. Companies need to be able to produce and to trade, they need to generate revenue and keep their employees in employment,” Ramaphosa said.

“The action we take now must therefore be measured and incremental . . . We cannot take action today that we will deeply regret tomorrow,” he explained.

“We must avoid a rushed re-opening that could risk a spread, which would need to be followed by another hard lockdown, as has happened in other countries.”

So, beginning next Friday when the lockdown restrictions are eased, you may be able to buy cigarettes, but alcohol and take-away food will remain off-limits.

The country’s borders will however remain closed to international travel, except for the repatriation of South African nationals and foreign citizens.

No travel will be allowed between provinces, except for the transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances such as funerals.

Public transport will continue to operate, with limitations on the number of passengers and stringent hygiene requirements, including that all passengers must wear a face mask.

All gatherings, apart from funerals and for work, will remain prohibited.

Bars and shebeens will remain closed as well as conference and convention centres, entertainment venues, cinemas and theatres, while no concerts will be allowed.

Further, sporting events as well as religious, cultural and social gatherings will not be allowed until it is deemed safe for them to continue.

“The coronavirus is spread by contact between people. If people do not travel, the virus does not travel,” Ramaphosa said.

The easing of the lockdown conditions will see the country’s alert level for the killer disease being moved from Level 5 to Level 4.

Level 5 means drastic measures are required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives – it requires a full national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.

Level 4 means 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 with the maintenance of physical distancing and restrictions on some leisure and social activities to prevent a resurgence of the virus.

Level 1 means most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times.

“This approach is guided by advice from scientists who have advised that an abrupt and uncontrolled lifting of restrictions could cause a massive resurgence in infections,” Ramaphosa said.

The National Coronavirus Command Council will determine the alert level based on an assessment of the infection rate and the capacity of the health system to provide care to those who need it.

The alert levels for different sectors of the economy will be determined according to the risk of transmission in that sector, the expected impact of the lockdown, the economic contribution of the sector and the effect on livelihoods.

The relevant ministers are expected to provide a detailed briefing, starting Monday, on the classification of industries and how each is affected at each level.

“We will give all industry bodies an opportunity to consider these details and, should they wish, to make submissions before the new regulations are gazetted,” the president said.

Ramaphosa said some businesses will be allowed to resume operations under specific conditions.

Every business, he said, will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, and workplace plans will be put in place to enable disease surveillance and prevent the spread of the virus.

“All businesses that are permitted to resume operations will be required to do so in a phased manner, first preparing the workplace for a return to operations, followed by the return of the workforce in batches of no more than one-third,” Ramaphosa said.

“In some cases, a sector will not be able to return to full production during Level 4 while the risk of infection remains high.”

He encouraged businesses to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible, saying staff who can work remotely must be allowed to do so.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Free State remains at 106, with five deaths as well as 76 recoveries recorded in the province.

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