President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a countrywide move from level four to level three lockdown as of June 1.
Although alcohol will be on sale, under strict conditions for home consumption, when the country moves to level three, cigarettes and other tobacco products will remain banned.
More South Africans will be able to go back to work, and individual exercise will now be permitted at any time of the day. The 9pm to 5am curfew will also be lifted, and the first wave of students would return to school and tertiary institutions, despite concerns from parents and teachers unions.
Ramaphosa lauded what he called the success of the lockdown, saying it had bought time and stopped the public health system from becoming overwhelmed: “We have used the time during the lockdown to build up an extensive public health response and prepare our health system for the anticipated surge in infections.”
To date, South Africa has 22 583 confirmed cases of Covid-19. About half of these people have recovered, and 429 people have died from complications related to the disease.
Addressing the nation from Pretoria, the president warned: “We should expect that these numbers will rise even further and faster. The coronavirus is going to get much worse before it gets better.”
Ramaphosa noted that various parts of the country will be declared coronavirus hotspots, notably, most of the metro municipalities. These include Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town — and a number of districts, among them the West Coast, Overberg, Cape Winelands, Chris Hani and iLembe municipalities.
The Western Cape, particularly in its Cape Town metropolitan area, has been hard hit, with more than 300 deaths. There have been suggestions that the city should not move to level three, notably from the opposition ANC in that province. The provincial premier, Alan Winde, said earlier in the day that he province’s health system is well-positioned to deal with an increase in cases, and to reopen the economy.
Winde’s argument is that the province stands more to lose if restrictions on the economy continue. “This cannot be ignored. It will impact the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities who will no longer be able to put food on the table. We must do everything we can to save lives now, and we must do it in a way that also saves lives in the future.”
Ramaphosa noted the widespread consultation with medical experts and hinted at the furore surrounding differing opinions on the efficacy of the lockdown between high-level advisory committees and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Talking about education, Ramaphosa said it was important that learners return to school, taking a cautious approach, and under strict infection-control measures, to ensure that they were not disadvantaged by the loss of school time. The school calendar would be revised and the curriculum trimmed. No parent would be forced to send their child to school.
A phased approach would also be taken at higher education institutions, which are using remote teaching and learning, with only a third of the student population returning to campus during level three. More students would return when we move to level two and one.
Ramaposa said although most sectors of the economy would return to work from June 1, some would remain closed. These included bars, sit-down restaurants, and hair salons and beauty parlours. Gatherings, including music concerts, remained banned. He said talks were taking place with the religious sector about the potential of opening places of worship under strict conditions in the future.
Construction companies and manufacturing will be able to reopen from June 1, after proper phasing-in arrangements were put in place. Wholesale and retail trade would open fully, and sectors that had earlier opened would remain fully opened.
Watch the president’s address again: