President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to retain the current adjusted level 4 lockdown, as well as the bulk of the stricter Covid-19 regulations, when he announces Cabinet’s reviewed measures to curb the pandemic later today.
City Press has been reliably told that Cabinet decided two weeks ago that Ramaphosa would announce level 4 Covid-19 restrictions for 21 days. However, to manage concerns from the business community, he opted for two weeks, with the intention of reviewing the lockdown thereafter.
Sources with intimate knowledge of the discussions about government’s Covid-19 containment measures told City Press that Ramaphosa would most likely extend the current restrictions for a further two weeks, despite calls from the alcohol and restaurant industries to relax them.
“While there seems to be an attempt to review restrictions now, this is likely to be a mechanical exercise, as all indications are that the status quo will remain, with room remaining open for additional restrictions, as Covid-19 infection numbers are still escalating,” said a Cabinet member.
This was confirmed by another member, who said: “The president should have stuck to the initial resolution in order to avoid this need to constantly make announcements.”
Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams did not respond to questions sent to her by City Press.
A series of submissions were made by the ministerial advisory committee yesterday, following written submissions from the liquor and restaurant industries to the national coronavirus command council on Thursday.
A special national coronavirus command council meeting at 10am today will be followed by a president’s coordinating council meeting and a special Cabinet meeting at 2.30pm to renew monthly regulations, as well as review level 4 adjusted restrictions.
Beyond retaining the current regulations, Cabinet is also expected to announce the extension of the national state of disaster by another month.
SA Medical Association (Sama) vice-chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa told City Press that the association’s submission to the ministerial advisory committee (which was discussed with the national coronavirus command council) was that it would be necessary to extend the current lockdown regulations.
Mzukwa said: “Our thinking about it is that there should be an extension of at least two weeks to schools reopening. We don’t think it’s a good idea for them to be reopened on July 19. We think that’s just too early. We also think we should continue with the current curfew.
“The other thing is the restriction on gatherings, and government making sure that people adhere to it. For instance, political gatherings are the biggest threat to the spread of the virus, because it’s been evident that, at such gatherings, people don’t wear masks. These are our main concerns.”
Lack of enforcement
Medical expert Dr Aslam Dasoo concurred, saying: “Given the difficulty government has in managing differential restrictions in different provinces, it’s likely that we’ll remain on adjusted level 4 across the country for the time being, with tweaks here or there.”
He also lamented government’s failure to strictly enforce the prohibition on all non-essential gatherings, particularly political gatherings.
With regard to Gauteng, which has been the epicentre of the third wave of infections, Dasoo said it was likely that the wave had peaked and was peaking or levelling off.
However, he stressed the need to understand that there was still a very high level of new infections, “and the total so far of new cases during the wave will practically double as the wave subsides over time”.
“It’s also important to understand that in the next 10 days or so, a significant number of these people making up the new daily cases will develop severe illness and require hospitalisation. A proportion of them will die. So the effects of the wave, even if it starts to decline, will still have huge consequences for the already buckling health system for the [foreseeable] future.”
He added that on-site consumption of alcohol and the reopening of social gatherings was, for now, unacceptable.
Dasoo added, however, that “some economic restrictions can perhaps fall away, without any consequences” at this point.
“This is as long as the mainstay of personal protective measures and diligent compliance with Covid-19 protocols in workspaces are practised and enforced, if necessary.”
Mzukwa expressed similar sentiments, saying the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption could now be permitted.
“We understand that the economy’s under pressure and we think off-site consumption should be allowed,” he said.
In written proposals seen by City Press, the alcohol and restaurant industries called on government to “enable livelihoods to be saved” by allowing “off-site consumption from licensed [traders] to be allowed from Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm”.
They also requested that “on-site consumption in licensed premises such as taverns and bars”, as well as “the e-commerce sale of alcohol”, be given the green light.
The industries also called for regulations to be amended to allow full interprovincial travel to support the value chain of travel and tourism.
A big concern for Sama and Dasoo was that, although established for the good, some vaccination sites had possibly become superspreader locations.
“Vaccination sites are places where gatherings occur and there is a higher risk of transmission as a result,” said Dasoo.
He added that what was paramount at this point was that vaccinations be accelerated, “especially over weekends”.
“Failure to open vaccination sites over the weekend is a major cause of the slow uptake,” he explained.
During her media briefing on Friday, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced a major boost to South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination plans, with vaccines now being made available to more age groups.
She said that her department had held talks with Treasury this week about funding for human capital to allow for vaccinations on weekends, with finances now secured. She added that weekend vaccinations would begin early next month.