Three million South Africans have already applied for the state's new R350 a month grant, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday evening in an address to the nation.
Applications for the grant opened on Monday.
The R350 a month special grant is intended to provide money to unemployed South Africans who receive no other form of assistance from government.
If all three million applications are successful, the state would pay out an additional R10.5 billion a month, about half its current monthly social grants bill.
Government has also upped payouts to other grants by R5 billion a month, during "a time when other sources of income have been disrupted".
Ramaphosa told the nation that SA risks a "rapid and unmanageable surge in infections" if lockdown restrictions are lifted too early.
He said that government would, however, be starting a process of consultation on a proposal to place "most of the country" on alert Level 3 at the end of May.
"But ... those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on Level 4," he said.
According to draft regulations, under alert Level 3 all clothing, home textiles and footwear can be sold, as well as tobacco products and alcohol at specific times.
He also promised changes in rules governing retail and e-commerce in coming days, without providing further details.
Cautious and steady
The president said the state's overall plan was still to "steadily increase economic activity" while putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of the virus.
The pandemic had taken a heavy toll on "our people’s ability to earn a living," he said.
Ramaphosa said that the Unemployment Insurance Fund had to date paid out R11.6 billion to two million workers at 150 000 distressed companies.
"This will help to keep companies afloat and save millions of jobs," he said.
The Solidarity Fund, meanwhile, has raised R2.7 billion from 175 000 individuals and more than 1 500 companies and foundations.