Covid-19 hotspots could remain at Level 4 as the country moves to Level 3 on 1 June, with the possibility they could be moved to a hard lockdown if measures to curtail the spread of the virus fail.
This according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize who announced it to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Tuesday.
He said high-risk areas would be classified as hotspots and they would remain at Level 4 lockdown restrictions with intensive implementation of screening and testing.
This despite President Cyril Ramaphosa saying on Sunday evening the whole country should be lowered from Level 4 to 3 with effect from 1 June.
"Even as we move to alert Level 3 it is important that we should be aware that there are a few parts of the country where the disease is concentrated and where infections continue to rise.
"We will have a differentiated approach to deal with those areas that have far higher levels of infection and transmission. These areas will be declared coronavirus hotspots."
Ramaphosa, however, did not say what the differentiated approach to deal with the hotspots would entail.
Mkhize told members of the NCOP on Tuesday the World Health Organisation had advised the government should wait for a decrease in cases before easing the lockdown.
But, Mkhize said, the economic downturn, poverty and hunger needed to be mitigated.
"Hard lockdown is no longer sustainable in its current form and needs to readjust," read his presentation to the NCOP.
He added the infection rates varied between districts, with some districts having few cases and others significantly more.
"There is little value in stringent measures in those districts where there is low or no infection, but in the districts with high infection rates and active cases, there should be a focus on intensive action," Mkhize told the NCOP.
He said the current generalised lockdown would be eased to Level 3 for those districts that do not have hot spots, adding at Level 3 there would be vigilance and close monitoring of areas of infection.
"High-risk areas will be classified as hot spots and these districts will remain at Level 4 with the intensive implementation of screening, testing and restrictions."
In two weeks, the districts will be reviewed again with a view to classifying districts across the five alert levels and it is anticipated that there will be districts that are at levels 1 to 5.
Mkhize said if combined actions in hot spots did not work to contain the spread of infection, a return to a hard lockdown would be considered in the area, comparing it to Wuhan's lockdown.
A district will be considered a hotspot if there are more than five active cases per 100 000 members of the population.
He added expert teams would work in hotspots to make sure they looked after individuals' health.
"Experts will concentrate on a very small catchment area. They will try and keep as many people away from hospitals by getting them treated by teams of GPs and nurses."
Mkhize said they could introduce additional measures in hotspots to contain the spread of the virus.
On Sunday, Ramaphosa identified the following hot spots: Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City, Cape Town, the West Coast, Overberg and Cape Winelands district municipalities in the Western Cape, Chris Hani District in the Eastern Cape, and the iLembe District in KwaZulu-Natal.
How will alert levels be determined?
- Each district's alert level will be determined by Mkhize taking into account the burden of active cases, trends in the active cases and the health system capacity to respond to the disease burden.
- The provincial command council must consider these levels and submit provincial plans to contain the spread of the epidemic, including health measures, economic activity, restrictions on movement and social services.
- Mkhize will then present the proposed alert level per district with the provincial plans to contain the infection to the National Coronavirus Command Council which will confirm an alert level and monitor the provincial plans to contain the infection.