EXPLAINER | Do we know when SA is dropping from Level 4, and what happens at Level 3?


As South Africa enters 48 days since the national lockdown was enforced, and 12 days since the country entered lockdown Level 4, many are asking when restrictions will be eased. 

This as a number of the country’s top scientists have argued that an extended lockdown will not serve well in the country’s response to the coronavirus any longer. 

South African businesses are also calling for a reopening of the economy, with many having had to close their doors permanently. 

Here's what we know: 

What is the threshold for lockdown Level 3?

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the "Risk Adjusted Strategy" for a phased reopening of the economy in April, he said the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) would determine the appropriate lockdown level based on how fast the coronavirus had spread, and the capacity of the country’s healthcare system.

Also read: EXPLAINER | Tobacco, jogging and movement: How the government makes lockdown decisions

He said the lockdown restriction levels would be implemented differently across provinces and districts based on the situation in the area. 

Details on how the NCCC will decide that the capacity of health care has increased sufficiently, or that the spread of the virus is low enough to ease restrictions, has not been released by the government. 

The five levels of coronavirus risk assessment

Why should South Africa ease its national lockdown? 

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who chairs the ministerial committee which advises Ramaphosa on the country’s Covid-19 response, said that peak of the outbreak, expected in late August, will not be delayed by a continued lockdown. 

Therefore, Karim told Bhekisisa, the country should return to work within the next two to three months, with social distancing behaviour, in a bid to "live with the virus".

Read: SA beyond Covid-19: How it will shape the future, according to scientists, economists and political minds

When the spread of the virus spikes after an economic reopening, likely in July, the government will probably enforce a higher lockdown level again, he said. 

Meanwhile, the National Treasury estimates that the country can lose up to seven million jobs if the economy is not allowed to reopen quickly - pushing the unemployment rate from 27% to over 50%. 

Is there any indication of an announcement? 

Police Minister Bheki Cele on Monday said the NCCC was discussing moving the country from lockdown Level 4 to 3, but the Presidency has made no indication that an announcement is expected in this regard. 

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said extending the lockdown would most likely not extend the peak by much, and said the initial lockdown was "perfect" to help the country plan and prepare. 

He said the country could not continue with a lockdown forever, and people needed to change their behaviour in order for normal economic activities to return, CityPress reported.

Mkhize, however, said the lockdown would be eased according to the situation in each district, with hotspot areas such as the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal probably seeing higher lockdown levels. 

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko did not respond to a request for comment. 

What are the differences between lockdown level 3 and lockdown level 4? 

According to South Africa’s draft "Risk Adjusted Strategy" for a phased reopening of the economy, lockdown Level 3 will permit all e-commerce services, limited domestic air travel, and the sale of alcohol between 08:00 and 12:00 between Mondays and Wednesdays.

Vehicle sales, commercial construction and laundry and dry-cleaning services will be allowed to resume, and industries such as steel, clothing and chemical manufacturing will be allowed to scale up to 100% capacity. 

The sale of cigarettes will also likely be permitted. 

Interprovincial travel, except for returning to work or funerals, and social gatherings will, however, remain prohibited, and a curfew between 20:00 and 05:00 will stay in place. 

Everyone will also still be required to wear their face masks when leaving their properties, and maintain a two-metre social distance in all public spaces and transport. 

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