South Africa will be moved to a level 2 lockdown next week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Saturday evening.
“As South Africa moves to lockdown Level 2 on August 18, prohibitions on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products will be lifted. Gyms and fitness centres will be permitted to reopen. Appropriate restrictions and safety precautions will apply to protect public health,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa was addressing South Africans on developments in our country’s risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of COVID-19.
A hard lockdown was imposed at the end of March to curb the spread of COVID-19 while giving the government time to prepare the healthcare system for the expected spike in virus infections.
Today marks 142 days since the lockdown began.
“It has been five months since we declared a national state of disaster to combat to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Ramaphosa.
“It has been an immensely difficult five months, and the pandemic has taken a heavy toll – on the health of our people, on families and communities, on the public health system, on the economy and on people’s everyday lives.”
In taking the decision, President Ramaphosa said Cabinet was heeding the advice of health experts.
Over the last three weeks, new confirmed cases dropped from a peak of over 12 000 a day to an average of 5 000 over the past week. During this period, the recovery rate rose to 80% from 48% from when the President addressed the nation in July.
While the country has 583 653 confirmed COVID-19 cases, only 105 000 are active. To date, 11 667 people have succumbed to COVID-19 related illnesses.
In an effort to improve basic precautions and alleviate stress on the public health system, government will soon announce a powerful new tool to support digital contact tracing efforts. This will lead to more efficient identification, testing, isolation and treatment of positive cases.
Under Level 2 of the nationwide lockdown, leisure travel between provinces will once again be permitted. Small social gatherings can also take place, with appropriate precautions and hygiene protocols to minimise coronavirus transmission.
“The extension of the National State of Disaster to September 15 will allow government to continue to respond effectively to the threat of the virus to public health, our healthcare system and the economy,” said Ramaphosa.
“Economic activity will be allowed with the necessary and appropriate stringent health protocols and safety precautions in place,” he said.
During this level, all restrictions on interprovincial travel will be lifted. In this regard, accommodation, hospitality venues and tours are permitted to operate, albeit observing approved protocols to ensure social distancing.
“Restaurants, bars and taverns will be permitted to operate according to approved protocols as to times of operation and numbers of people,” said the President.
Restrictions on the sale of tobacco and alcohol will be lifted subject to certain restrictions.
“Alcohol will be permitted for on-site consumption in licensed establishments only up until 10pm. Liquor outlets will be allowed to sell alcohol for off-site consumption from Monday to Thursday during the hours of 9am to 5pm only,” he said.
While the President urged the public to exercise extreme caution, restrictions on family and social visits are also lifted.
The virus, he said, appears to have peaked in several provinces, including the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and possibly in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Fewer people are presenting with symptoms at our health facilities. We are also finding that fewer people are requiring admission in our hospitals and the demand for Coronavirus tests has dropped,” the President said, adding that patient hospitalisation had dramatically decreased from 10 000 to around 4 000 in the first two weeks of August.
“It is now clear that had we not acted as swiftly and decisively as we did – and had we not taken the threat as seriously as we did – far more lives would have been lost,” he said.
Despite indications being that the country is past its peak, President Ramaphosa said government’s concern in the coming weeks and months is to continue to save lives.
“Most of our health facilities have proven resilient, capable and able to withstand and deal with the surge,” he said.
The modelled projections of infections, hospitalisation and deaths have been adjusted downwards as progress in the management of the disease was noted.
Warning against complacency, the President urged the public to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and good hygiene. Not complying with these protocols has proved catastrophic in other countries, the President said.
While the easing of restrictions is expected to have a positive impact on the country’s economy, the President conceded that it would take a long time for industries and businesses to recover.
“There is much work still to be done,” he said.
Government, labour, business and community organisations are now working on an urgent economic recovery programme that places the protection and creation of employment at its centre.
“We will be making announcements on the outcome of this work in the next few weeks. We will use this moment not only to return South Africa to where it was before, but to transform our country to a more equal, more just and more dynamic economy,” he said