Exactly 10 weeks after South Africa’s initial 21-day lockdown was implemented, and with more than 20 000 people waiting eagerly, President Cyril Ramaphosa last night stood behind his now-familiar podium to make yet another lockdown-related announcement on live television.
His anticipated greeting of “My fellow South Africans” was replaced with “Fellow compatriots” followed by an apology.
“I am sorry that these measures imposed great hardship on you – restricting your right to move freely, to work and eke out a livelihood. As a result of the measures we imposed – and the sacrifices you made – we have managed to slow the rate of infection and prevent our health facilities from being overwhelmed.”
This announcement follows the recent meetings of Cabinet, the National Coronavirus Command Council and the President’s Coordinating Council, which reflected on the prospects for the downgrade of the national lockdown from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3.
The president went on to appeal to the public to help curb the spread of Covid-19 which has to date infected more than 5, million people, leading to just under 350 000 fatalities globally.
He said that the lockdown served as an opportunity to expand the country’s already extensive public health response and prepare the health system for the anticipated surge in infections.
“As individuals, as families, as communities, it is you who will determine whether we experience the devastation that so many other countries have suffered, or whether we can spare our people, our society and our economy from the worst effects of this pandemic.”
As a precaution, nearly 60,000 community health workers are going door-to-door to test people for the virus and, in preparation for the expected increase in infections, around 20,000 hospital beds are being prepared for COVID-19 patients.
Additionally, 27 field hospitals are being built around the country, with a number of these hospitals already capable of accomodating coronavirus patients.
But it isn’t a smooth preparation process – the global demand for diagnostic medical supplies has resulted in the great demand for these supplies across the world.
Ramaphosa says that this resulted in lengthy turnaround times for coronavirus testing, which in turn has had an impact on the effectiveness of treatment programmes.
He went on to confirm that the national lockdown wasn’t intended to stop the spread of the virus, but rather to delay it.
“One-third of the cumulative confirmed cases were recorded in the last week alone. And we should expect that these numbers will rise even further and even faster.”
“Various models have been built to predict the trajectory of the virus and help to inform our planning and budgeting,” he said, adding that the models reveal two important things:
Firstly, the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa is going to get much worse before it gets better.
And secondly, said the president, the duration, scale and impact of the pandemic depend on our actions as a society and our behaviour as individuals.
He went on to thank the country’s community leaders and public health experts, saying
“We are extremely grateful for the work they have done and continue to do to ensure that our response is informed by the best available scientific evidence.”
It was then that the president made the announcement that many South Africans had been waiting for –
“It is on the basis of these criteria – and following consultation – that Cabinet has determined that the alert level for the whole country should be lowered from level 4 to level 3 with effect from 1 June 2020.”
He went on to offer a word of caution, saying that this easing of the lockdown causes a significant shift in our approach to the pandemic.
“Even as we move to alert level 3 it is important that we should be aware that there are a few parts of the country where the disease is concentrated and where infections continue to rise.”
These areas will be declared “coronavirus hotspots” that will each need a differentiated approach to deal with the far higher levels of infection and transmission. In this context, a ‘hotspot’ refers to an area that has more than 5 infected people per every 100,000 people or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace.
Ramaphosa went on to name the country’s current hotspots adding that the list will be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus.
In terms of the activities, products and services that will be permitted under level 3, the president says that there will be a gradual return to the operation of most sectors of the economy, subject to observance of strict health protocols and social distancing rules.
As of 1 June:
- More public servants will be called back to work.
- This will be done following provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and as guided by the Department of Public Service and Administration working together with all other departments in government.
- People will also be able to leave their homes to buy goods or obtain services including medical care.
- People will also be able to exercise at any time during the day, provided this is not done in groups.
- The curfew on the movement of people will be lifted.
- Alcohol may be sold for home consumption only under strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours.
- The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert level 3 due to the health risks associated with smoking.
- All gatherings will remain prohibited, except for funerals with no more than 50 people or meetings in the workplace for work purposes.
- Any place open to the public where cultural, sporting, entertainment, recreational, exhibition, organisational or similar activities may take place will remain closed.
Ramaphosa emphasized that the government’s priority is to reduce the opportunities for the transmission of the virus and create a safe environment for everyone.
“We are therefore asking that those who do not need to go to work or an educational institution continue to stay at home.”
He went on to discuss the future protocol businesses must follow saying that several sector protocols require each company to develop a workplace plan before they re-open.
You can read more on the president’s announcement and the easing of the lockdown here: https://tinyurl.com/yawups7s
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