Covid-19: What you may and may not do during 21-day lockdown in SA

Shoppers queue outside Dis-Chem Pharmacy ahead of a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to try to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus  outbreak. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Shoppers queue outside Dis-Chem Pharmacy ahead of a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to try to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Regulations have been published setting out how things will work under South Africa’s 21-day Covid-19 lockdown. Here we answer some of the top questions on what people in the country may or may not do in this time.

Following the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the country will be entering a lockdown for 21 days (starting midnight on Thursday March 26 until April 16), several government clusters have announced what regulations will be implemented during this time. These regulations have been outlined in the Government Gazette.

However, Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel cautioned on Wednesday that regulations may change or be added as gaps are identified.

“We will learn from implementing [the regulations]. We will amend the regulations as we go. If there are gaps that we have discovered, we can bring out a new regulation,” Patel said.

Several questions have emerged from various sectors of society about the lockdown.

Where and when can I collect my SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) grant?

According to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, in a press briefing on Tuesday, that Sassa will be ready to pay out grants from March 30 and retailers and banks are working closely with the agency so that payments can be accessed by everyone.

She reminded South Africans that older people and persons with disabilities should be allowed to access their grants on March 30-31 so that they can return home as quickly as possible.

“All other grants will be available from April 1,” Zulu said.

She added that correct hygiene protocols and social distancing should be enforced by retailers, with assistance from SA Police Service and the SA National Defence Force where needed.

The Sassa offices will be closed and no new applications will be processed during the lockdown, said Zulu. And any urgent applicants will be handled by their call centre.

Will my NSFAS allowance be affected by the lockdown?

No. According to Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme allowances will still be paid to students.

“The payments are not being suspended just because universities have been suspended,” Nzimande said on Tuesday.

Will homeless shelters remain open?

Yes. According to Zulu, all shelters will remain open throughout the lockdown and food will be provided to these shelters.

Food will also be provided to old age homes, centres for young people and rehabilitation centres during the lockdown.

Will my elderly relatives be able to stay in their old age homes?

Yes, old age homes will remain open, according to Zulu. However, she said no visits will be allowed in the 21-day lockdown.

Which shops am I allowed to go to?

You are allowed to go to the grocery stores that sell essential products such as food and non-alcoholic beverages, animal food, electricity, airtime, hygiene, personal and cleaning products as well as pharmacies for medication and fuel (such as gas and coal).

These items are provided for in the Government Gazette, and the full list of items have been published.

If we find the liquor in your boot [during lockdown], that’s illegal
Police Minister Bheki Cele

The gazette also states that spaza shops that sell essential products will remain open during this time. However, it has not outlined any limitations for which spaza shops may remain operational.

Citizens are also allowed to collect social grants and to seek emergency or chronic medical attention, according to the gazette.

What do I need in order to identify myself as someone who performs an essential service?

According to the regulations published in the Government Gazette, any essential service worker will have to carry a permit signed by their employer that identifies them. The permit form can be found in the gazette. It also states that a form of identification must accompany the permit at all times. So, you will need to carry your ID with you as well.

How will I get to work (if I am an essential service worker) and I use public transport?

According to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and the regulations outlined in the gazette, essential service workers will be able to use mini-bus taxis and buses to go to work.

Mbalula said metered taxis and e-hailing services such as Uber and Bolt will not be allowed to transport essential service workers and people allowed to make the “permitted movements” as gazetted.

However, public transport will only be running between 5am and 9am and again between 4pm and 8pm, said Mbalula.

In addition, the vehicles will carry a reduced number of passengers and must be sanitised after every trip.

He also said that all rail travel has been suspended until the end of the lockdown.

Will public transport still be available for people who aren’t essential workers at this time?

Yes. Mbalula said public transport will be available to make permitted trips but will only be running during the set times in the mornings (5am-9am) and the afternoons (4pm-8pm).

However, he stated that priority will be given to essential service workers.

Can I still collect my chronic medication?

Yes, as medication falls under the essential products that you will be able to purchase during this time. If you are reliant on public transport however, then you will have to take into consideration the limited times at which public transport will be operating.

Can I take groceries or medication to my elderly or sick relatives?

According to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, special provision has been made in the gazette, which lists the “care services and social relief of distress provided to older persons” as essential services.

It also extends these essential services as the care and social relief of distress provided to “mentally ill, persons with disabilities, the sick and children”.

Dlamini-Zuma said this means that you will be able to provide elderly or sick relatives with groceries or medication. However, whether or not you would need a written permit or other proof to show your intent was not discussed at the press conference and may still be implemented.

A parking guard stands in the deserted Vilakazi st
A parking guard stands in the deserted Vilakazi street in the township of Soweto, near Johannesburg on Thursday (March 26 2020) just hours before South Africa goes into a nationwide lockdown for 21 days in an effort to mitigate the spread to the coronavirus. Picture: Jerome Delay/AP Photo

Can I order takeaways during the lockdown?

No. Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said in a statement on Wednesday: “All restaurants, cafes, bars and coffee bars will be closed during the lockdown. This extends to the suspensions of all food delivery services.”

Can I buy liquor during the lockdown?

No, the sale of any alcohol is prohibited during lockdown, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Wednesday.

But can consume the alcohol you have in your home, but you are not allowed to take it elsewhere.

“If we find the liquor in your boot [during lockdown], that’s illegal,” Cele said.

Can I take my dog for a walk or go for a run?

After some confusion about whether or not this would be allowed during the lockdown, Cele said this will not be allowed.

Will we still be able to hold funerals during the lockdown?

Yes. The department of home affairs will be issuing death certificates throughout. Small funerals, of no more than 50 people, will be allowed.

Can I still drive my car during the lockdown?

Yes, and petrol stations will remain open. However, you will only able to travel to work if you are considered essential personnel or to any of the other locations provided for in the gazette. This includes shops for food and other essentials, the pharmacy to seek medical care and to collect a social grant.

What if my driver’s licence expires during the lockdown?

If your driver’s licence expires during the lockdown, you will only be required to renew it after the lockdown has been lifted, according to Mbalula.

Will the department of home affairs be open during lockdown?

The department of home affairs will be operational during the lockdown, but only with skeleton staff, according Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. These staff members will only be permitted to issue three documents – replacement IDs, birth and death certificates. Applications for new IDs will resume after the lockdown has ended.

If I share joint custody of my child, will he/she be able to alternate between both parents – especially between provinces?

During the press briefing on Wednesday, there were no specific regulations in place to deal with this scenario, said Zulu. But this may change.

Will there be load-shedding during the lockdown?

During the lockdown, the coal mining industry will continue to operate, but at a reduced capacity, according to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. This includes operations to provide Eskom with coal.

Mantashe said it’s unlikely that load-shedding will occur as many businesses will be closed, resulting reduced demand for electricity.

. This article was produced by Spotlight – health journalism in the public interest.

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