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Coronavirus: South Africa to ease lockdown to level 4 as of 1 May says Ramaphosa

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 20 April – 24 April

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg
Posted on Friday, 24 April 2020 15:23

Virus Outbreak South Africa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at the NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg Friday, April 24, 2020, where facilities are in place to treat COVID-19 patients. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

South Africa will gradually reopen the economy on 1 May, when its lockdown will be eased to level 4, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address late Thursday.   

“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 told the nation.

Five-point plan

Ramaphosa’s administration has designed a five-level, COVID-19 response plan that will guide the application of social distancing measures:

  • Level 5 is currently in force and entails restrictions on movement, minimal economic activity and closing the country’s borders.
  • Level 4 makes allowance for the resumption of some economic activity “subject to precautions” but still prohibits social gatherings.
  • Level 3 relaxes restrictions on work and social activities.
  • Level 2 gives further concessions on some leisure and social activities.
  • Level 1 is when normal activity will resume.

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In terms of level 4, the country’s borders will remain closed to international travel, “except for the repatriation of South African nationals and foreign citizens.”

Travel between provinces is barred, but the transportation of goods will be permitted. The government has also made a concession for travel in the event of a funeral.

When level 4 begins at the start of May, some businesses will be allowed to reopen under specific conditions.

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

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ramaphosa ramps up economic relief measures as pandemic grows

The sale of cigarettes will be permitted, but bars and shebeens (taverns) will remain closed.

Furthermore, conference and convention centres, entertainment venues, cinemas, theatres, and concerts will remain closed. The range of goods that may be sold will be extended to incorporate certain additional categories.

Science-backed response

When South Africa recorded its first confirmed coronavirus cases, Ramaphosa’s administration moved swiftly and set up a National Coronavirus Command Council as a crisis response mechanism.

The president then announced a national state of disaster followed by the lockdown. Ramaphosa has won praise for his decisive response from allies and critics alike.

This speedy action is widely credited for slowing the rate at which South Africa’s COVID-19 curve has risen.

READ MORE: South Africa in lockdown as Coronavirus cases spike

The lockdown has bought the government time to prepare its health facilities and procure essential medical supplies “needed to meet the inevitable increase in infections.”

“The World Health Organisation has commended South Africa for following scientific advice to delay the spread of the virus,” said Ramaphosa.

  • Despite these inroads, South Africa has the highest rate of infections on the continent with nearly 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. So far, the country has recorded 75 deaths and conducted more than 140,000 tests
  • Scientific evidence presented to Ramaphosa shows that 75% of infections are concentrated in six major municipalities: Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni in Gauteng; Cape Town in the Western Cape; Buffalo City in the Eastern Cape; eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal; and Mangaung in the Free State.

“As we begin easing lockdown restrictions from the beginning of May, we are calling on all South Africans to wear a face mask whenever you leave home.

“Our clothing and textile industry, including many small businesses, are gearing up to produce these masks on a mass scale,” Ramaphosa said.

New regulations will be published in the coming week to give effect to a level 4 lockdown.

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