Lockdown easing

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a risk-adjusted easing of the Covid-19 hard lockdown last Thursday evening.

The envisaged changes, which include allowing a greater range of goods allowed for sale, the phased return to work of certain sectors of the economy, physical exercise in accordance with strict guidelines, the broadening of e-commerce activity, opening of restaurants and other food preparation businesses for delivery only, and the sale of tobacco products, come into effect at midnight on Thursday April 30, when lockdown Level 4 is implemented.

The revised strategy, according to President Ramaphosa, is informed by the task team of medical and other experts which is advising the national coronavirus command council on the country’s response to the pandemic.

It is designed to ease the lockdown restrictions on a phased basis, so that critically needed economic activity can resume, without resulting in a spike in Covid-19 infections.

Key changes include a phased return to work, with partial or complete resumption, in agriculture (including agricultural exports), forestry and fishing; manufacturing of specified products; mining operations; all telecoms, ICT services, airtime, and ICT equipment; emergency repair services; accommodation for isolation and quarantine purposes; food delivery services subject to curfew; online, print, live-streaming, broadcasting services; and finance and business services; and critical civil and construction works for public sector projects; cargo services, e-hailing services and limited public transport; according to Trade and Industry Minister, Ebrahim Patel, talking at a media briefing on Saturday morning. He noted that these changes will put about 1.5 million people back to work, which constitutes 40% of the workforce.

Explaining the easing of restrictions in the industrial, manufacturing and commercial sectors, Mr Patel emphasised that it was essential, to ensure worker safety, to prevent increased transmission when the Level 4 return to work comes into effect.

Speaking at Saturday’s media briefing, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, stressed that if the easing of restrictions resulted in an unacceptable increase in Covid-19 infections, the response level could be moved back to Level 5.

Specific restrictions that remain in effect are no local or inter-provincial travel except for those operations reactivated by, or in support of, the advent of Level 4, no international travel; no concerts, cinemas or gatherings, no alcohol sales, no air or sea passenger travel.

Public transport will play a critical role in getting people back to work, but the Level 5 restrictions remain in effect, with passenger vehicles limited to three people, and taxis limited to 70% occupancy, including, in both instances, the driver.

Rail transport remains shut down.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma emphasised the need for stringent observation of public health measures by the public transport sector, to prevent a spike in infections.

She also said everyone will be required to wear a mask, scarf, or other means of covering the nose and mouth, when leaving home.

Although differing response levels are mooted in the risk-adjusted response system, Dr Dlamini-Zuma pointed out that on Friday May 1, the entire country will move to Level 4, and that differentiated levels per province, region, metro, district or ward, would only be implemented if infection levels in each jurisdiction justify such changes. This would also require promulgation of specific state of disaster regulations per area.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma also said that exercising, such as jogging or walking, will be allowed under Level 4, but in accordance with strict, yet to be published, guidelines. No organised, group, or communal exercising will be permitted, and gyms will remain closed.

On the sale of tobacco products, Dr Dlamini-Zuma said the changes under consideration were all subject to final confirmation after the task team had considered inputs from all stakeholders.

The final Level 4 regulations will be promulgated and published by no later than Thursday April 30.