President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday that South Africa’s alert level will now be lowered to Level 3 lockdown as from the 1st of June in order to allow for some modicum of economic activity, develop immediate recovery plans and pivoting the South African economy in a position of growth.
Ramaphosa, who has been under immense pressure to open the economy from opposition parties and powerful lobbyists from the business community, said the implementation of alert Level 3 from the beginning of June will involve the return to operation of most sectors of the economy, subject to observance of strict health protocols and social distancing rules.
He said subject to these measures, all manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, information technology, communications, government services and media services, will begin full re-opening from 1 June.
In a televised live address, Ramaphosa said government’s decision to move to alert level 3 lockdown was endorsed by his Cabinet following extensive consultations with political parties, stakeholders and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-1, who are a group of highly qualified, respected and experienced scientists, clinicians, epidemiologists and public health experts.
He warned though that the move to Level 3 might also result in a spike in the number of infections and said government will not hesitate to put back hotspots in Level 4 or Level 5 if things do not improve.
On Sunday, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa today stood at 22 583.
“I want to emphasise that the easing of some restrictions does not mean that the threat posed by the coronavirus has passed or that our fight against the disease is over,” said Ramaphosa.
“Moving to alert level 3 marks a significant shift in our approach to the pandemic. This will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people, while significantly expanding and intensifying our public health interventions.”
Ramaphosa said one of the greatest challenges the country will face with the move to level 3, which will enable the return to work of up to 8 million people, will be the increased risk of transmission in public transport.
He added that restaurants, bars and taverns will remain prohibited from opening, except for delivery or collection of food.
Other economic activities which will remain prohibited under level 3 lockdown include accommodation and domestic air travel, except for business travel, which will be phased in on dates to be announced.
Conferences, events, entertainment and sporting activities, personal care services, including hairdressing and beauty services are also still prohibited.
Ramaphosa said the opening of the economy and other activities means that more public servants will be also called back to work.
“This will be done in accordance with provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and as guided by the Department of Public Service and Administration working together with all other departments in government,” said Ramaphosa.
He said a number of areas will be declared coronavirus hotspots.
A hotspot is defined as an area that has more than five infected people per every 100,000 people or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace.
Metros identified as coronavirus hotspots include City of Tshwane, City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Ethekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town.
The other areas that are hotspots are West Coast, Overberg and Cape Winelands district municipalities in the Western Cape, Chris Hani district in the Eastern Cape, and iLembe district in KwaZulu-Natal.
Ramaphosa said government will assign a full-time team of experienced personnel to each hotspot.
He said government will link each hotspot to testing services, isolation facilities, quarantine facilities, treatment, hospital beds and contact tracing.
Ramaphosa said government was particularly concerned about the situation in the city of Cape Town and in the Western Cape generally, which has more than half the total infections in the country.
He said government was attending to the situation in the city of Cape Town and Western Cape as a matter of urgency.
Ramaphosa also announced that alcohol may be sold for home consumption only under strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours.
However, the sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert level 3 due to the health risks associated with smoking.
“Our priority is to reduce the opportunities for the transmission of the virus and create a safe environment for everyone,” he said.
“We are therefore asking that those who do not need to go to work or to an educational institution continue to stay at home. People will also be able to leave their homes to buy goods or obtain services including medical care. People will also be able to exercise at any time during the day, provided this is not done in groups.”