Ramaphosa announces gradual easing of Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa

On Thursday night President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an easing of the nationwide lockdown in response to the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa. He said a phased reopening of the economy will begin on May 1. Ramaphosa noted that although a lockdown remains the most effective way to limit the spread of the virus, the prosperity of South Africans would be at risk with a continued lockdown. 

“Nationwide lockdown cannot be sustained indefinitely,” he said. “People need to eat, earn a living and companies need to be able to produce and trade, need to generate revenue and keep people employed.” 

The president, however, noted that the lockdown has worked and the need to save lives and prevent the country’s health system becoming overwhelmed remains paramount. In consultation with scientists and other experts, the government has introduced a tiered system of response to the virus — South Africans may find some echos in the tiered system to that used for load-shedding, with level five signalling the most strict response. 

Ramaphosa said the National Command Council had developed an approach that determines measures we should have in place based on the direction of pandemic in the country.  

There will be five alert levels:

  • Level 5 – drastic measures required to contain spread of virus to save lives
  • Level 4 – Some activity allowed, subject to extreme caution 
  • Level 3 – Easing of some restrictions including on work and social activities 
  • Level 2  – Further easing of restrictions but maintenance of physical distancing and restrictions on leisure
  • Level 1 – Most normal activity can resume with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times

On Friday May 1, South Africa will enter alert level four.

This means that some activity will be allowed, but with extreme caution. Further details will be provided in the coming days. The president, however, highlighted that some businesses would resume operations only under specific health and safety protocols to protect the workplace and employees.

Plans to prevent further infections

Businesses will be allowed to resume activity in a phased manner, but only after preparing the workplace for the return to operation. Only a third of the workforce would be allowed to return during level four, with the result that some businesses would not be able to reach full production.

Businesses were encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible.

Ministers will provide details of phased reopening of schools and other educational institutions. 

Ramaphosa also said that sectors would still be able to negotiate with the relevant departments on opening. 

Borders will remain closed to international travel, except for the continued repatriation of South African nationals and foreign citizens. No travel between provinces will be allowed, except for funerals, the transportation of goods and in exceptional circumstances. Public transport can continue to operate, with a limit on the number of passengers and extreme hygiene requirements. 

Although the new level meant a relaxation of regulations, Ramaphosa did not compromise on activity that would foster people gathering, saying in no uncertain terms that, with the exception of funerals and for work purposes, gathering remained prohibited. 

He said the public is encouraged to stay at home, other than for essential personal movement, essential work, or work in sectors under controlled opening.

Exercising will also be allowed, but under strict conditions. The elderly and people with underlying health conditions are urged to remain at home. 

“If people do not travel, the virus does not travel,” Ramaphosa said.  

“We know, for example, that just one funeral in Port St Johns, and one religious gathering in Mangaung contributed to a spate of infections in their respective provinces … It is therefore essential that we do everything in our means to restrict the movement of people — although it runs counter to our very nature — to reduce the contact that each of us has with each other.”

Given the amount of public pressure regarding the sale of cigarettes, it was not surprising that Ramaphosa specifically mentioned lifting this ban, and that the range of goods permitted to be sold will also be extended, with further details expected from addresses by ministers.

Several restrictions will remain in place — bars and shebeens will remain closed. Conferences, events, concerts, cinemas, sporting events, and religious and social gatherings will also not be allowed. 

Details of SANDF role

Ramaphosa confirmed that he had employed more than 70 000 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel to assist in combating the pandemic, but said that their role would go further than supporting the police. Although the army would continue to support the police, troops would also focus on providing assistance in other areas — such as the provision of water, infrastructure maintenance and health services. 

This is in line with the letter sent to Parliament this week, which referred to section 18 of the Defence Act, which provides for the employment of troops to preserve life and health in an emergency and to provide humanitarian relief, to ensure essential services, to support economic upliftment and for border control. 

This is different to section 19, which provides for joint operations with the police for maintaining law and order and combating crime. The letter to Parliament indicated that this employment would last until June 26.

Read the president’s address here.

Watch the president’s address again:

daily infections by province

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

It’s not a ‘second wave’: Covid resurges because safety measures are relaxed or ignored

A simple model shows how complacency in South Africa will cause the number of infections to go on an upward trend again

Deconstructing South Africa’s construction industry performance

The construction industry has contracted sharply, partly due to Covid, and needs to rebalance its focus if it wants to survive

Fort Hare students test positive for Covid after partying

The 30 students, who went to a bash at a tavern in East London, were not wearing masks, did not sanitise their hands nor keep to social distancing regulations.

Black construction businesses sidelined

When it comes to mega infrastructure projects, it is still the mega white-owned companies who score government contracts

Tracking, tracing and transparency

Governments are processing tons of personal information to limit the spread of Covid-19. They must ensure this does not cost us our privacy

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday