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UPDATE | Covid-19: Ramaphosa warns of ending lockdown abruptly, announces phased easing of restrictions from 1 May

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On the same day the country recorded its biggest spike in the number of positive Covid-19 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown would be eased from 1 May.

Addressing the nation on Thursday night, Ramaphosa announced the government would follow a five-level phased approach towards easing lockdown restrictions.

He said it would implement a risk-adjustment strategy that would be deliberate and cautious. 

"There is still much that is unknown about the rate and spread of the virus. Action we take must be measured and incremental."

Ramaphosa added the National Command Council had decided "that the national coronavirus alert level will be lowered from level 5 to level 4 with effect from Friday the 1st of May". 

On Wednesday, Health Minister Zweli Mkize said in a statement there were 318 new cases and 10 more deaths.

This has pushed the country's positive cases to 3 953, while the death toll rose to 75.

READ | Covid-19: Western Cape becomes the new epicentre as 10 more die in SA

Ramaphosa said following the advice of scientists it was decided on the five-level approach because there was still much that is unknown about the rate and manner of the spread of the virus within the country's population.

"We must avoid a rushed reopening that could risk a spread, which would need to be followed by another hard lockdown, as has happened in other countries. We have to balance the need to resume economic activity with the imperative to contain the virus and save lives."

Currently, the country is on level 5, the most drastic required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives. The next level, which he said would be introduced next Friday, would see some activity being allowed to resume, subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.

Under level 4, some businesses will be allowed to resume operations under specific conditions.

(Rudi Louw)

Ramaphosa said every business would have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, with workplace plans in place to enable disease surveillance and to 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. 

"In some cases, a sector will not be able to return to full production during Level 4 while the risk of infection remains high," he added.

"To ensure that our response to the pandemic can be as precise and targeted as possible, there will be a national level and separate levels for each province, district and metro in the country."

READ: What the new reality for South Africans post-lockdown could look like according to draft input

Ramaphosa said the borders would remain closed to international travel, except for the repatriation of South African nationals and foreign citizens.

Travel between provinces will remain closed, except for the transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances such as funerals.

Public transportation would continue to operate, with limitations on the number of passengers and stringent hygiene requirements, he added, saying all passengers must wear face masks.

(Rudi Louw)

People will be allowed to exercise under strict public health conditions and gatherings, apart from funerals and for work, will remain prohibited.

The elderly are advised to remain at home and take additional precautions to isolate themselves.

The president said the sale of cigarettes would be permitted and a range of goods that might be sold would be extended to incorporate certain additional categories.

Ministers on the National Command Council will hold a media briefing on Friday morning to give details on the easing of the lockdown.

They are expected to give more details on which sectors will be allowed to operate under level 4 as well as whether schools and universities will be reopened.

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