In his address to the nation on Saturday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would move to lockdown level 2 from midnight on Monday, 17 August 2020. The decision, he said, was in light of the steadily declining number of COVID-19 infections.
“The further easing of restrictions presents us with the greatest opportunity since the start of the pandemic to breathe life into our struggling economy,” he said.
South Africa has, since the end of March, instituted a nationwide lockdown with risk-adjusted alert levels to stabilise the soaring COVID-19 infections.
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.
What to expect in level 2
Under alert level 2, in which the spread of Coronavirus is expected to be moderate, the country can ease up restrictions to economic activity across most industries, said the President.
“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.