Scores of South Africans waited in anticipation for President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening, May 24. Each and every single person hoping he would bring a glimmer of hope.
Since declaring a national state of disaster 10 weeks ago, Ramaphosa emphasised that South Africa is consequently in a much better position than many other countries were at this stage in the progression of the disease.
“As a result of the drastic containment measures, we have taken, we have been able to strengthen our health response. As of today, we have conducted over 580,000 coronavirus tests and more than 12 million screenings,” Ramaphosa claimed.
According to Ramaphosa, there are nearly 60,000 community health workers who have been going door-to-door across the country to identify possible cases of coronavirus.
In preparation for the expected increase in infections, around 20,000 hospital beds have been, and are being, repurposed for COVID-19 cases, and 27 field hospitals are being built around the country. A number of these hospitals are ready to receive coronavirus patients.
However, Ramaphosa says the country has experienced several challenges. This includes a shortage of diagnostic medical supplies as a result of the great demand for these supplies across the world.
“This has contributed to lengthy turnaround times for coronavirus testing, which in turn has had an impact on the effectiveness of our programmes.”
Looking to the future, Ramaphosa explained that while the lockdown would delay the spread of the virus, it was known that the lockdown would not be able to stop it.
“Until there is a vaccine available to all, the coronavirus will continue to spread in our population. This means that we must get used to living with the coronavirus for some time to come.”
Currently, there is a massive global effort to develop a vaccine, of which South Africa is part.
As the vaccine is being worked on, Ramaphosa said that as scientists had predicted, the infections in South Africa have now started increasing sharply.
“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,” Ramaphosa said.
Various models have been built to predict the trajectory of the virus and help to inform our planning and budgeting.
These models tell us two important things.
Firstly, that the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa is going to get much worse before it gets better.
Secondly, and most importantly, they tell us that the duration, scale and impact of the pandemic depends on our actions as a society and on our behaviour as individuals.
“By following basic defensive practices, we can reduce both the number of infections and the number of deaths,” Ramaphosa emphasised.
Furthermore, Ramaphosa added that while the nationwide lockdown has been effective, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.
“We introduced the five-level COVID-19 alert system to manage the gradual easing of the lockdown. This risk-adjusted approach is guided by several criteria, including the level of infections and rate of transmission, the capacity of health facilities, the extent of the implementation of public health interventions and the economic and social impact of continued restrictions.”
Following consultation and on the basis of the abovementioned criteria, Cabinet has determined that the alert level for the whole country should be lowered. As of June 1, South Africa will go from level 4 to level 3.
Moving to alert level 3 marks a significant shift in our approach to the pandemic.
“This will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people, while significantly expanding and intensifying our public health interventions,” Ramaphosa said.
The implementation of alert level 3 from the beginning of June will involve the return to operation of most sectors of the economy. However, they will be subject to observance of strict health protocols and social distancing rules. The opening of the economy and other activities means that more public servants will return to work.
“This will be done in accordance with 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.”
What can we expect during Level 3? According to Ramaphosa, South Africans can expect the follow:
- Those who do not need to go to work or to an educational institution are urged to continue to stay at home.
- People can leave their homes to buy goods or obtain services including medical care.
- People will 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. Announcements in this regard will be made once officials have concluded discussions with the sector on the various conditions.
- The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert level 3 due.
- 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, exhibitional, organisational or similar activities may take place will remain closed.
- National borders will remain closed except for the transport of goods and repatriation of nationals.
Businesses which can expect open:
- All manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, information technology, communications, government services and media services, will commence full reopening from June1.
- Wholesale and retail trade will be fully opened, including stores, spaza shops and informal traders. E-commerce will continue to remain open.
- Other sectors that opened previously, such as agriculture and forestry, utilities, medical services, food production and manufacture of hygiene products, will remain fully opened.
Businesses which will remain closed:
- Restaurants, bars and taverns, except for delivery or collection of food. Accommodation and domestic air travel, except for business travel, which will be phased in on dates to be announced.
- Conferences, events, entertainment and sporting activities. Personal care services, including hairdressing and beauty services. The return to work will be phased in so that the workplace can be made coronavirus- ready. It must be done in a manner that avoids and reduces risk of infection.
What are your thoughts on South Africa moving down to Level 3 and certain regulations being eased? Do you feel certain regulations are still a tad harsh? Or do you welcome the promise of Level 3 as of June 1?
Share your thoughts and views with us in the comment section below.