Level 3 at last. But don’t mess it up, warns Cyril
Stick to curbing the spread or risk an immense disaster, he tells citizens about to return to work
President Cyril Ramaphosa has handed over the baton to SA citizens to behave in a manner that will not reverse the hard-won gains of the lockdown.
Invoking the words of Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa said: “It is now in your hands.”
The president uttered these words after announcing that the whole country would move to level 3 of the national lockdown from June 1, which means eight million people will go back to work.
This will breathe some direly needed life into the economy but may also cause a peak in Covid-19 infections.
“As individuals, as families, as communities, it is you who will determine whether we experience the devastation that so many other countries have suffered, or whether we can spare our people, our society and our economy from the worst effects of this pandemic,” Ramaphosa said.
The government appears to have abandoned the idea of different alert levels for hot spots, which would have presented an administrative nightmare. Instead, the president referred to a “differentiated approach”. It would have rendered the opening up of the economy futile if the areas with higher infection rates – mainly metropolitan areas – were not allowed to open for business.
“These areas will be declared coronavirus hot spots. A hot spot is defined as an area that has more than five infected people per 100,000 people or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace. The following metros have been identified as coronavirus hot spots: Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town,” Ramaphosa said.
The list of hot spot areas will be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus.
“We are particularly concerned about the situation in the city of Cape Town and in the Western Cape generally, which now has more than half the total infections in the country. We are attending to this as a matter of urgency. The list of hot spot areas will be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus.”
The hot spots will be beefed up with specialist multidisciplinary teams based in those areas to track the movement of the virus and respond to it.
Big business, which has placed immense pressure on the government to allow more economic activity, will also have to put in place the necessary testing, screening and tracking infrastructure.
Cluster outbreaks at retail stores in the Western Cape have not been encouraging in this regard. The government will also have to keep a tight leash on business despite having minimal resources – about 1,000 labour and health inspectors – to do so.
It is also unlikely that we have seen the last of the tobacco wars, given Ramaphosa’s announcement that tobacco products will still not be sold under level 3.
The coronavirus National Command Council has been divided on the matter, with finance minister Tito Mboweni flagging the economic implications of maintaining the ban. Initially, it appeared that level 3 would allow the sale of cigarettes. However, it is understood the comand council decided that lifting the ban would put the health system under strain because of a limited availability of ventilators.
On Saturday, tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told the Sunday Times that up to 15% of restaurants have already indicated that they will close permanently. The figure would be about 30% in the coming months.
Ramaphosa’s address shut the door on the possibility of operation – beyond deliveries and pick-ups – for restaurants. Other so-called social businesses such as hairdressers, taverns and hotels will also remain shut. These industries are likely to go to the government with a begging bowl even as economic relief funds are stretched thin.
The coming weeks will also demonstrate whether the government has made the most of the nationwide lockdown to prepare the necessary support infrastructure, which could determine how many people die.
The health department’s last report on its state of readiness indicated that it had managed to prepare 125,390 non-ICU beds and about 10,000 ICU beds in preparation for a surge in infections which will inevitably come with the movement of people under level 3 and the expected peak around July and August.
The consortium of modellers working with the department indicated last week that ICU beds could run out even before the peak, raising concerns around ther government’s state of readiness.
Should South Africans fail to heed the call to behave in a manner that ensures the spread of the virus is contained, Ramaphosa warned that the government could reinstate stricter regulations seen under levels 5 and 4.
But from June 1, at least South Africans will be allowed to buy alcohol again for home consumption and exercise any time of the day, with no curfew in place either.