South Africa to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions

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President Cyril Ramaphosa has unveiled new levels of Coronavirus which will determine which sectors of the economy would be opened in certain areas. President Cyril Ramaphosa has unveiled new levels of Coronavirus which will determine which sectors of the economy would be opened in certain areas.

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After four weeks on lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa has unveiled new levels of Coronavirus (COVID-19) which will determine which sectors of the economy would be opened in certain areas.

Speaking on Thursday night about South Africa’s next steps in its fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus, President Ramaphosa addressed the nation on the country’s next steps in easing the lockdown.

The new lockdown measures comes after Ramaphosa announced a R500 billion stimulus package earlier this week, on which finance minister Tito Mboweni will provide more details on Friday.

Ramaphosa said we have to balance the need to resume the economy with the need to contain the virus. He said while the lockdown has helped curb of virus, the economy needs to function again.

“Beyond Thursday the 30th of April we will implement a risk adjusted strategy to take a deliberate and cautious approach to ease lockdown restrictions.

We have developed an approach that determines the measures we should have in place based on the direction of our pandemic in the country,” he announced.

He said the country was currently in level 5 and would enter level 4 from Friday, 1st of May.

As South Africa gradually ease the restriction and the country moves to level four:

- Borders will remain close, except for repatriation purposes.

- No travelled allowed between provinces except for transportation of goods and attending funerals.

- Public transport to continue operating during certain times.

- People may be able to exercise under strict guidelines.

- Bars, cinemas, concerts and sporting and religious events to remain closed.

The president advised that the details of how the system would work to implement a phased reopening of every sector of the economy would be given by each of the relevant ministers in the days ahead.

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

Numerous products would be returning to shelves, including cigarettes, and even possibly alcohol if the country could reach level 3, though he did not explicitly confirm that.

“The range of goods that may be sold will be extended to incorporate certain additional categories. These will be detailed by the relevant ministers,” was all he said.

What does the easing of lockdown restrictions to level four mean:

This means that some activity can be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.

Every business 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 infection.

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.

How will the five levels work? (Please note much of this info will still need to be confirmed by government)

According to an already leaked government document this week, certain specified things will be allowed or disallowed on the basis of the alert level announced by the state at any particular moment.

At level five, the crisis level will be at its highest and the most stringent measures will be applied to limit the spread of the coronavirus. At level one, most activities will be allowed, though social distancing measures and sanitation practices will always have to be observed.

Gatherings of more than 10 people will also not be allowed and venues such as theatres and stadiums will remain closed to the public along with restaurants, bars, shebeens and other places where the public normally gathers in groups.

However, at lower levels of threat, alcohol will be allowed for purchase from retailers during certain hours, along with most other everyday products.

Restrictions on economic activity need to be adapted to epidemiological trends, and may need to be relaxed and tightened in different periods. An alert system will be created with clearly defined levels of restriction that can be imposed by the National Command Council as necessary.

Different regions and provinces could find themselves on different alert levels depending on their local circumstances:

  • If lockdown regulations are amended to allow some economic activity to resume, it is possible that the infection rate will accelerate and that the virus will resurge. In this scenario, it would be necessary to quickly revert to more stringent restrictions in order to arrest further transmission.
  • An “alert system” with four to five levels would allow for flexibility and responsiveness, and would reduce the need to amend regulations in future.
  • At each level restrictions would be more or less severe, and sectors and companies would know what activity is permitted depending on the level imposed at any time.
  • Government would be able to switch between levels with far greater speed, and could use mass communications platforms (such as an SMS notification system) to signal this to the public.
  • Different levels could be imposed in specific provinces and areas based on the risk of transmission.
  • A gradual transition between alert levels can be implemented where necessary.
  • Detailed health protocols should be imposed at all levels of alert.

The following restrictions would remain in place after the national lockdown, and regardless of the level of alert at any given time:

  • Sit-in restaurants and hotels
  • Bars and shebeens
  • Conference and convention centres
  • Entertainment venues, including cinemas, theatres, and concerts
  • Sporting events
  • Religious, cultural and social gatherings
  • No gatherings of more than 10 people outside of a workplace will be permitted.
  • Passengers on all modes of transport must wear a cloth mask to be allowed entry into the vehicle. Hand sanitisers must be made available, and all passengers must sanitise their hands before entering. Public transport vehicles must be sanitised on a daily basis.

The following rules will be imposed across all sectors and alert levels, the presentation continues:

  • Industries are encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible, and all staff who can work remotely must be allowed to do so.
  • Workers above the age of 60, as well as workers with comorbidities identified by the Department of Health should be offered a work-from-home option or allowed to remain on leave with full pay.
  • There should be workplace protocols in place that would include disease surveillance and prevention of the spread of infection.
  • All employers to screen staff on a daily basis for symptoms of Covid-19, including a symptom check as well as temperature assessment.
  • All employees to use a cloth mask especially where social distancing is not possible.
  • Work environment to have sanitisers available or hand washing facilities with soap.
  • Stringent social distancing measures should be implemented in the workplace.

Understanding what each level could mean

At level 5, with high virus spread, and/or low health system readiness, only essential services will be allowed.

  • Bus services, taxi services, e-hailing and private motor vehicles may operate at restricted times, with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirements.
  • No inter-provincial movement of people, except for transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances (e.g. funerals).

At level 4, with moderate to high virus spread, and with moderate readiness, all essential services will be allowed, plus:

  • Food retail stores already permitted to be open permitted may sell full line of products within existing stock.
  • All agriculture (horticulture, export agriculture including wool and wine, floriculture and horticulture, and related processing).
  • Forestry, pulp and paper.
  • Mining (open cast mines at 100% capacity, all other mines at 50%).
  • All financial and professional services Global business services for export markets.
  • Postal and telecommunications services.
  • Fibre optic and IT services.
  • Formal waste recycling (glass, plastic, paper and metal).
  • Bus services, taxi services, e- hailing and private motor vehicles may operate at all times of the day, with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirements.
  • No inter-provincial movement of people, except for transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances (e.g. funerals).

At level 3, with moderate virus spread, and moderate readiness, the following will be allowed:

  • Licensing and permitting services, deeds offices and other government services designated by the Minister of Public Service and Administration.
  • Take-away restaurants and online food delivery.
  • Liquor retail within restricted hours.
  • Clothing retail.
  • Hardware stores.
  • Stationery, personal electronics and office equipment production and retail.
  • Books and educational products.
  • E-commerce and delivery services.
  • Clothing and textiles manufacturing (at 50% capacity).
  • Automotive manufacturing.
  • Chemicals.
  • Bottling.
  • Cement and steel.
  • Machinery and equipment.
  • Global Business Services.
  • SANRAL construction and maintenance.
  • Transnet at 100%.
  • Bus services, taxi services, e-hailing and private motor vehicles may operate at all times of the day, with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirements.
  • Limited passenger rail restored, with stringent hygiene conditions in place.
  • Limited domestic air travel, with a restriction on the number of flights per day and authorisation based on the reason for travel.
  • No inter-provincial movement of people, except for transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances (e.g. funerals).

At level 2, with moderate virus spread, and with high readiness, the following will be permitted:

  • Construction.
  • All other retail.
  • All other manufacturing
  • Mining (all mines at 100% capacity).
  • All government services Installation, repairs and maintenance.
  • Domestic work and cleaning services.
  • Informal waste-pickers.
  • Domestic air travel restored.
  • Car rental services restored.
  • Movement between provinces at level 1 and 2 restrictions.

At level 1, with low virus spread, and high health system readiness:

  • All sectors.
  • All modes of transport, with stringent hygiene conditions in place.
  • Interprovincial movement allowed, with restrictions on international travel.

To make the determination of which sectors should be allowed to resume activity at each level of alert, three criteria will be considered:

  • Risk of transmission (including the ease of implementing mitigation measures).
  • Expected impact on the sector of continued lockdown (including prior vulnerability).
  • Value of the sector to the economy (e.g. contribution to GDP, multiplier effects, export earnings).

Any decision about whether to institute a lower alert level will be made by the National Command Council based on evidence gathered during the week about the spread of the virus.

Ramaphosa’s address followed a meeting of the National Command Council held earlier today and consultations with several stakeholders, including leaders of political parties represented in Parliament.

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Cyril Ramaphosa  |  Coronavirus (Covid-19)

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