In a delicate balance by President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Covid-19 coronavirus national command council to resuscitate an economy that has been crippled by the national lockdown, a risk adjusted strategy will be implemented to resume economic activity after April 30.
Addressing the nation on Thursday evening, Ramaphosa reiterated that due to the high infection rate of the virus, government was prompted to implement a hard lockdown, which was extended by a further two weeks and will lifted at the end of April.
He added that while the lockdown and the additional measures put in place – such as social distancing and adhering to stringent hygienic routines – were the only proven ways of curbing the rapid spread of Covid-19, “our people also need to eat and the economy needs to be revived”.
“We therefore have been forced to gradually reopen the economy and this will be done in taking to consideration a risk adjusted strategy to resume economic activity.”
Ramaphosa then explained that as of May 1, the country will be moving from the current stage five lockdown phase – which is the most stringent stage accompanied with the most draconian measures as a result of the high risk of the virus spread and low readiness of the health sector to combat the pandemic – to a stage four scenario.
“The national coronavirus command council met earlier today and determined that the national coronavirus alert level will be lowered from level 5 to level 4 with effect from Friday the 1st of May,” said Ramaphosa.
He added that the decision was taken cautiously as “a rapid easing of the hard lockdown could reverse the gains made in the past five weeks and could land the country back to a situation where another lockdown is necessary”.
Ramaphosa explained that stage four “means that some activity can be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks”.
He added that every business will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, and workplace plans will be put in place to enable disease surveillance and prevent the spread of infection.
“All businesses that are permitted to resume operations will be required to do so in a phased manner, first preparing the workplace for a return to operations, followed by the return of the workforce in batches of no more than one-third,” said Ramaphosa.
The president said level four was the first step towards easing the lockdown regulations – where there was a moderate to high virus spread possibility with the health sector at a low to moderate state of readiness with regard to dealing with the virus.
“Our borders will remain closed to international travel, except for the repatriation of South African nationals and foreign citizens.
No travel will be allowed between provinces, except for the transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances such as funerals.
Public transport will continue to operate, with limitations on the number of passengers and stringent hygiene requirements, including that all passengers must wear a face mask,” said Ramaphosa.
He further said about the other levels:
Level three, which entails the future easing of some activities but with great caution as the speed of the virus at this stage still remains moderate with a moderate readiness by the health sector to combat the pandemic.
Level two would see yet another relaxation of lockdown measures with a strict adherence to social distancing and other hygienic measures.
Level one would see most normal activity resume, but precautions and health guidelines would still in place.
The president clarified that these levels would also be implemented at provincial, district and local government levels as a result of the virus affecting various places in a different manner.
“From the evidence we have, we know that 75 percent of confirmed coronavirus cases are found in just six metro municipalities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Cape Town, Buffalo City, Ethekwini and Mangaung. As such, the implementation of the various stages would not only be at a national level but also, provincial, at district level, and local government level,” said Ramaphosa.
While there was an easing of the measures with level four, Ramaphosa said “all gatherings, apart from funerals and for work, will remain prohibited”.
“Those who are elderly, and those with underlying conditions, must remain at home and take additional precautions to isolate themselves,” said the president.
He announced a reprieve for cigarette smokers – the sale of cigarettes will be permitted when the country moves to level four.
A detailed breakdown of the new measures would be provided by the relevant ministers on Friday.
Sit-in restaurants, hotels, bars, conference centres, cinemas, sporting events and religious gatherings will remain shut after the lockdown ends, regardless of the risk level, Ramaphosa said.
Earlier in the day, the ministry of health announced a significant increase in the total number of infections.
The number of infections jumped by 318 from Wednesday, with the total number of confirmed sitting at 3 953.
The number of deceased stands at 75 with 10 new deaths recorded in the last 24 hours.
On a positive note, the number of people who have recovered is now at 1473.
143 570 tests have been conducted while the total number of screening to date stands at 3 633 037.
Of the indivuals screened, 24 174 were referred for testing.