Compulsory face masks and curfew kick in as lockdown eases

From midnight next Friday, all South Africans have to wear a face mask in public as the country moves from level five of the national lockdown to level four. 

A curfew, starting at 8pm and ending at 5am, will also be in place from May 1. People will now be able to exercise outside of curfew hours (from 5am to 8pm). Details of what this means will be announced next week — but gyms will not be open.

Public transport will operate during these curfew times, but under strict health protocols and a 70% maximum capacity.

These announcements were made by Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at a media briefing on Saturday.

Patel said that more than 40% of South Africa’s workforce will be back at work from May 1.

Under level four, more sectors of the economy will be permitted to operate. These include retail, manufacturing, mining, business services such as call centres, hunting, energy, forestry and fishing. Agriculture was permitted under level five but auctions will now be allowed.

Restaurants will open — but they are only allowed to deliver food.

Manufacturing, which was partially open, will now see more than 20% of the sector back at work. This will include the manufacturing of children’s clothing, especially winter items, blankets and other bedding, cement, hardware (mostly for vehicle components) and stationery production. 

Retail stores selling children’s clothing, stationery, educational items, cigarettes and computers and cell phones will also open. 

Patel said each sector must agree to a Covid-19 mitigation plan that is to be approved by the health ministry and the minister relevant to the sector. 

Businesses are also required to put Covid-19 mitigation and assessment plans in place. These include providing employees with items such as hand sanitisers and face masks. Businesses will have to screen employees for symptoms of Covid-19, provide safe transport, reconfigure shifts and put canteen controls in place. 

During level five, only those people working in businesses deemed to be essential were permitted to leave their homes to go to work. Patel said an additional 1.5-million people can return to work next week. “[This] allows us to restart or increase as many economic activities as possible.”

The data collected by large companies conducting mass Covid-19 screening and testing may be used by the government to get more reliable and comprehensive information on the number of Covid-19 infections in any particular area, he said. 

If the rate of Covid-19 infection decreases, more economic activities will be opened. 

Patel said the phased reopening of the economy allows firms to ready themselves for a period where operating under new public health and Covid-19 containment measures is the new normal. The coronavirus outbreak is expected to be active for at least the next six to eight months.

“We can’t simply get back to work as if the virus is not spreading and workplaces themselves have to change,” he said. 

Several factors were used by the government to determine which sectors of the economy would be permitted to resume operations. These are: the risk of transmission of the virus, the effect of a complete lockdown of the sector, the sector’s contribution to the country’s broader economy and the sector’s promotion of people’s well-being. 

Patel said the process to re-open the economy and allow more businesses to operate has been “difficult and complex” but that various factors had to be taken into account before restarting the economy. 

“We need to strike a careful balance between getting to work as rapidly as possible and containing the spread of the virus and saving lives,” he said. “We need to work …  to bring the risk level in the economy down. If we can bring the risk down below level four; if we can bring it level three, even more industries will be open,” he said. 

Patel said the phased re-opening of the economy is an opportunity to support South African firms. “When we as South Africans buy local goods we bring demand back into our economy and we help the economy to slowly recover.” 

Dlamini-Zuma said if the number of people with Covid-19 increases during phase four, phase five will be initiated again.

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Thando Maeko
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.

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