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Covid-19 lockdown rules relaxed as positive tests near 1 500

Government has relaxed some of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations to allow people to travel outside their home province to attend funerals and to free up the movement of food, medicine and other essential goods from South Africa’s harbours to the rest of the country.

While night vigils remain banned and the limit on the number of attendees remains in place, people who have lost a close relative will be allowed to travel to attend the funeral, provided that they have a copy of the death certificate and secure the permission of a magistrate or SAPS station commissioner.

And despite an announcement earlier in the day that cigarettes could be sold in Cape Town, police minister Bheki Cele was blunt in saying that the ban on the sale of cigarettes was national and there were no exceptions. 

At the same time that ministers were announcing the changing regulations, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that the number of positive tests had grown to 1 462.

The amended regulations also allow for the remains of a dead person to be transported from one province to another for burial or cremation, accompanied by two family members, who would be allowed to stay at the place of burial for 48 hours. Again permission would have to be sought from a magistrate or SAPS station commissioner.

The amendments were announced at a briefing by a number of cabinet ministers on Thursday evening, at which members of the public who are not involved in essential services were again repeatedly asked to stay at home.

Other amendments to the regulations, issued in terms of the state of national disaster proclaimed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week, allow for longer trading hours by supermarkets. Taxis would be allowed to ferry essential services staff at 70% capacity and buses and e-hailing services at 50%.

The department of health would establish a Covid-19 tracing database, using cellular technology, to track people suspected of having come into contact with the virus, to further prevent its spread and assist in the testing and treatment process.

The database would remain confidential and would include each person’s name, contact and identity details and address and the details of any suspected contacts who the person had interacted with.

Call centres providing essential services, including those in the financial sector, will also be allowed to start operating, but under strict physical distancing conditions to be imposed by the department of health. This specifically excludes debt collection agencies.

Amendments to the restrictions on ports and harbours will allow for people with life threatening medical conditions to exit or enter South Africa for treatment, while foreign nationals wanting to return to their countries of origin could now do so, provided that their embassy was involved in the evacuation and repatriation process.

Justice minister Ronald Lamola said the changes to regulations were not the result of government flip-flopping on its decisions, but rather motivated by the need to fine tune regulations as time went on to ensure that they worked effectively.

Some regulations, including those closing spaza shops, which had caused people to flock to malls for small items like bread, had “unintended consequences” and needed to be amended.

Lamola said the tracking of cellphones to help find people who had been exposed to the virus would not end in people being spied on using their phones.

A retired judge would be designated to ensure that the information gathered by the department of health was used for its intended purposes. The judge, who would be appointed soon, would be given a weekly report of all information gathered via the tracking system by the director general of the department of health.

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Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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