The transition to the next phase of the Covid-19 coronavirus response, that of recovery, will be more difficult than the current one.
The demands on our clinics and hospitals and medical personnel will grow as the risk of infection outbreaks increases.
This was the word from President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in his newsletter to the nation on Monday, said that was why easing the lockdown restrictions must not result in careless behaviour by individuals or reckless practices by businesses keen to resume activity at the cost of human health.
South Africans would need to adapt to this new normal – social distancing, face masks, washing hands regularly, and avoiding contact would become the new normal.
Ramaphosa noted that, due to the phased recovery of the economy, companies in certain specified industries had been able to resume part or all of their operations.
“The national coronavirus alert level is now at 4, which means that extreme precautions remain in place to limit community transmission. Our goal is to steadily reduce the alert level by keeping the rate of infection down and getting our health system ready for the inevitable increase in cases.”
He said that as the lockdown is gradually eased, life will slowly return, but “it will not be life as we knew it before”.
He said that although there was still much about the pandemic that was unknown, experts agreed that the virus would remain a threat to global public health for some time and we should be prepared to continue to live with the coronavirus among us for a year or even more.
“We must be prepared for a new reality in which the fight against Covid-19 becomes part of our daily existence,” he said.
“Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we make in our behaviour.”
Even after lockdown – especially after lockdown – Ramaphosa said South Africans would still need to observe social distancing, wear face masks, wash hands regularly, and avoid contact with other people.
Workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public places would need to be reorganised to limit transmission.
“We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and meeting that minimise opportunities for the virus to spread,” he said.
This is a reality that countries across the world are having to confront.
Even those countries that have started easing their lockdown restrictions are doing so tentatively and with extreme caution, he added.
Ramaphosa warned of a “second wave” of infections as public life resumed.
A number of countries including Germany, Iran and China had seen a rise in new infections since they relaxed certain restrictions, he said.
“We will be no different. We can and must expect infections to rise as more people return to work. We must accept the reality, prepare for it and adapt to it.
The next phase of our national response is as much about continuity as it is about change or innovation. We will step up our intensive screening, testing and case management programme. We will introduce new measures to make contact tracing more effective. We will need to implement mass sanitisation of workplaces, public transport and other spaces.”
Imposing a nationwide lockdown gave our country a strategic advantage, Ramaphosa said.
“It bought us valuable time to prepare our health system and put in place containment measures. This has slowed transmission and saved lives.”
But he warned that the transition to the next phase of the coronavirus response, that of recovery, would be more difficult than the present one.
“Now, more than ever, it is upon the conduct of each that depends the fate of all.”