President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that a number of South Africa’s lockdown regulations will be relaxed as the country moves to a level 2 lockdown from midnight on Monday (17 August).
In a national address on Saturday evening (15 August), the president said that the country is making progress in its fight against the coronavirus.
The country is now recording an average of 3,000 daily cases from about 12,000 per day about a month ago. The country’s reported recovery rate has also increased to over 80%. The cumulative number of cases in the country now stands at 583,653.
“All indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the infection point of the curve.”
Ramaphosa added that earlier models had to be revised downward due to the country’s better than expected response. “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.”
As the cases decrease, Ramaphosa said that the country will move to lockdown level 2 on Monday, and that restrictions will be eased in the following areas:
- All restrictions on inter-provincial travel will be lifted;
- Accommodation facilities will be permitted, in line with approved protocols;
- Restaurants, bars and taverns will be permitted to operate subject to regulations;
- Restrictions on the sale of tobacco will be lifted;
- Prohibition on the sale of alcohol will be lifted subject to restrictions. On-site consumption will be permitted until 22h00, while offsite consumption will be allowed from Monday to Thursday between 09h00 – 22h00.
- Restrictions on family and social visits will be lifted, but caution is urged;
- Gyms and fitness centres can open, with approved protocols in place;
- The curfew will remain in place from 22h00 – 04h00;
- Gatherings of more than 50 people are still prohibited, as are sports events with spectators;
- International travel is still prohibited outside of the existing regulations.
The easing in restrictions come nearly five months after the country first moved into a lockdown.
When Ramaphosa unveiled the new 5-level alert system, it was accompanied by a Draft Framework for Sectors document which provided an overview of which services will be allowed at the five levels.
Government has since deviated significantly from these guidelines and South Africans are now able to do many things which were originally proposed as part of a move to levels 1 and 2.
Peak in cases
The relaxed lockdown restrictions come as South Africa sees a decline in reported coronavirus cases and deaths across the country.
“We have seen in the past few weeks that we’re getting the country over the surge,” said Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Friday.
“We started calling each other to ask if we’re missing something and what has happened to the tests? Our starting point was to talk to the laboratory services and ask if they have enough diagnostic kits to conduct the tests and they assured us that they have,” he said, adding that there is no backlog.
The major provinces that were carrying the highest burden of the virus are on a downward trend, while some have plateaued.
“We’re very optimistic, but we’re very cautious about it because we don’t know why that happened. While the surge was anticipated, the surge has happened in numbers that are much less than originally planned,” he said.
However, he said that the lockdown had an impact in slowing down the spread.
“Nevertheless, we’re saying we remain cautious as we have so many more months to still traverse and be sure we’re over the problem.”
Mkhize said it looks like the country is over the peak even though the predictions project that there is still another two months of concern about a possible surge.
“We have received queries as to why there would be a need for the surge team if we are past the peak. The explanation is that we can never take anything for granted, we’d rather err on the side of caution,” he said.
The president said that the country faces a difficult economic task. “We have proven our resilience as a nation over the past five months. The task before us now is to apply the same energies with which we have battled this pandemic to the economic recovery effort. We are weathering a long and difficult storm,” he said.
Ramaphosa said that on Thursday, he convened all the social partners in NEDLAC, namely government, labour, business and community. “We are now working together on an urgent economic recovery programme that places the protection and creation of employment at its centre.
“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.”