Back to normal life? Forget it, says Cyril
Steeped in caution, the plan to ease lockdown paints a picture of life that won't return to what it was any time soon
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday evening detailed how the easing of the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus would happen slowly, and steadily. And it is not a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire country – the spread of the virus will dictate how fast restrictions are eased across the country.
The president made public a plan drafted at the National Command Council to have a five-stage approach to curb the spread of Covid-19, with the hardest lockdown being at level 5.
This codified plan gave the public a broad view that life would not return to normal in the foreseeable future.
But it did indicate a balancing act between calls to reopen the economy and scientific guidance that an abrupt lift of the lockdown would lead to a dangerous spike in infections with some early concessions like the sale of cigarettes and the allowing of physical exercise.
Ramaphosa once again left the detail of what this practically means to his ministers who would have to gazette new regulations guiding the new phase of the ‘soft lockdown’.
Ramaphosa once again left the detail of what this practically means to his ministers who would have to gazette new regulations guiding the new phase of the “soft lockdown”.
Critical decisions such as the phased reopening of schools and other educational institutions were also left to his executive to shed light on.
Instead, Ramaphosa gave the broad template of how SA would reopen the economy while working to stem the spike in infections.
Come May 1, the country would ease into level 4 lockdown, which would allow some businesses to operate with a third of their workforces.
South Africans will be allowed to exercise and the sale of cigarettes will be allowed.
“Level 4 means that some activity can be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks,” he explained.
A lot of prohibitions under the current lockdown will still remain, including the closure of borders except for the repatriation of citizens, a ban on intra-provincial travel, and restrictions to public transport.
Ramaphosa was unambiguous that under this phase, all gatherings will remain prohibited, including religious gatherings and sporting activity.
As long as there is a risk of the spread of coronavirus, bars and shebeens will be shut.
He said that at level three there will be the easing of some restrictions, including on work and social activities, while level two involves the further easing of restrictions but with strict social distancing. Life will return to normal at level one, with precautions and health guidelines to be followed at all times.
“To ensure that our response to the pandemic can be as precise and targeted as possible, there will be a national level and separate levels for each province, district and metro in the country,” Ramaphosa said.
To ensure that our response to the pandemic can be as precise and targeted as possible, there will be a national level and separate levels for each province, district and metro in the country.
This means that while the rest of the country may enjoy a lower level of restrictions, hot-spot areas would still be required to adhere to stricter restrictions.
“From the evidence we have, we know that 75% of confirmed coronavirus cases are found in just six metro municipalities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Cape Town, Buffalo City, eThekwini and Mangaung,” Ramaphosa explained.
On Thursday evening, the health minister announced a spike in infections, with confirmed cases at 3,953 and 75 deaths.
The president’s subdued tone indicated early in his address that the final decision on how the phased and gradual reopening of the economy would work was a difficult one.
Still, Ramaphosa said they needed a final round of consultation before the directive on how business should resume operations was made public.
“Every business will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, and workplace plans will be put in place to enable disease surveillance and prevent the spread of infection. All businesses that are permitted to resume operations will be required to do so in a phased manner, first preparing the workplace for a return to operations, followed by the return of the workforce in batches of no more than one-third,” he explained.
While there is broad scientific guidance that the abrupt lifting of the lockdown would lead to a spike in infections, Ramaphosa and his executive are erring on the side of caution.
“We cannot take action today that we will deeply regret tomorrow,” he said.
A briefing by the ministers will give an indication of how prepared the government is to effect Ramaphosa’s broad plan.
In the meantime, a snap of Ramaphosa putting on a mask at the end of his address – albeit a bit clumsily – made one thing clear: this is the new normal.