This means that restrictions on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes will now be lifted, and a slew of other regulations will be relaxed.
An indication of what was expected to be an extension of the lockdown, albeit with greater freedoms for South Africans, came when Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced the extension of the already five-month-long national state of disaster for another month until September 15.
In an address to the nation on Saturday night, Ramaphosa announced that among other changes, interprovincial travel would now be allowed, there will be unrestricted flight travel within South Africa, families may now visit each other, and all government offices and services will now be open to the public.
Level two regulations include:
- The opening up of interprovincial travel;
- Family and social visits are now allowed while exercising “extreme caution”;
- Restaurants, bars and taverns can open, at certain times and with limited numbers of patrons;
- Tobacco products can be sold;
- Alcohol can be sold, subject to certain restrictions;
- Curfew remains between 10pm and 4am; and
- International travel is still not permitted.
Prefacing the announcement of the move to level two, Ramaphosa acknowledged the effect it has had on South Africans’ personal lives, as well as the effects on the local economy.
Last month, the National Income Dynamics Study — Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) estimated that more than three million jobs had been shed as a result of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
“The last five months have been extraordinarily difficult for all of us … But for many people it has meant hardship and hunger; it has caused pain, anxiety and despair that no person should endure,” Ramaphosa said.
Flattening the curve
But the president stressed that lockdown interventions have worked to prepare South Africa’s fragile public-health system, while also managing to flatten the curve of the trajectory of the number of cases.
The numbers point to an inflection point. While there are 583 652 cases and more than 11 000 deaths, there are “signs of hope” with a recovery rate at 80% and the new case load, which reached 12 000 a day, dropping down to 5 000 a day.
The virus appears to have peaked in several provinces, including the Western Cape, where it was highest, in the Eastern Cape where it kept rising, and in Gauteng where it was alarmingly going up — and possibly in KwaZulu-Natal as well.
But, despite the relaxation of several lockdown restrictions, Ramaphosa warned that a second spike in infections if South Africans are not careful.
“The risk of infection now becomes greater as more people return to work; they move around more. We cannot be complacent and abandon the health precautions we need to save our lives and the lives of others. Even the slightest lapse in alertness could lead to a resurgence on a scale far greater than what we have seen so far,” Ramaphosa said.
This follows similar patterns in other countries that have opened up after lockdown periods.
Ramaphosa said, despite the overall effect of the lockdown, the restrictions have served their purpose. And, nearly half a year since the first reported cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, fewer people are presenting with symptoms at health facilities. The president also said fewer people are requiring admission to hospitals, and the demand for tests has dropped.
“Most of our health facilities have proven resilient and capable and able to deal with the surge …The progress we are recording would now not have been possible without the dedication and professionalism of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The progress we have made would not have been possible without the sacrifices of the people of our country,” Ramaphosa added.
Ramaphosa’s to-do list
Giving an update on evidence of Covid-related corruption, the president again promised that those found guilty of graft would be punished. In his last address, the president announced a multi-agency team to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption, while also recouping money from offenders.
“We have witnessed individuals who have sought to profit through corrupt means from this pandemic. We are taking decisive action to stop this to bring those responsible to book,” he warned.
Next up on Ramaphosa’s to-do list is to rebuild an economy that has been contracting since before the coronavirus pandemic. He said the creation of jobs will be at the centre of his economic plan, with a focus on infrastructure.
“We have proven our resilience over the past five months … But we are weathering a long and difficult storm. We are enduring great hardship and suffering that is unbearable. But we will continue to stand firm against this onslaught,” Ramaphosa said.
Watch the president’s address again: