President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that South Africa will move to alert level 3 with effect from 1 June – with more sectors of the economy opening and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people.
Addressing the nation on Sunday evening on the developments in South Africa’s risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of COVID-19, the President said the country will have a differentiated approach to deal with areas that have far higher levels of infection and transmission.
COVID-19 hot spots
These areas have been declared as Coronavirus hot spots. They include the following metros: Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town.
Other areas that have been identified as hot spots 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.
A hot spot 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.
To deal with the virus in these areas, government will implement intensive interventions aimed at decreasing the number of new infections.
“We are putting in place enhanced measures of surveillance, infection control and management. We will assign a full-time team of experienced personnel to each hot spot,” the President said.
This team will include epidemiologists, family practitioners, nurses, community health workers, public health experts and emergency medical services, to be supported by Cuban experts.
“We will link each hot spot to testing services, isolation facilities, quarantine facilities, treatment, hospital beds and contact tracing.
“Should it be necessary, any part of the country could be returned to alert levels 4 or 5 if the spread of infection is not contained despite our interventions and there is a risk of our health facilities being overwhelmed,” he said.
The list of hot spot areas will be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus.
Opening the economy
“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.
The opening of the economy and other activities means that more public servants will be called back to work,” President Ramaphosa said.
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.
The President’s address follows recent meetings of Cabinet, the National Coronavirus Command Council and the President’s Coordinating Council, which considered the prospects for the country’s progression from alert level 4 to alert level 3 of the national lockdown.
The President also held consultative meetings with the business, labour and community constituencies of the National Economic Development and Labour Council; leaders of political parties represented in Parliament; traditional leaders; leadership of interfaith communities; the South African Council of Churches and the tourism industry, which is the single largest source of employment in the private sector.
These consultations formed government’s efforts to explore possible prospects and assess the continuing health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
Protocols and workplace plans
As more sectors of the economy open, government will rely on social compacts with all key role players to address the key risk factors at the workplace and in the interface between employees and the public.
“We will therefore be finalising a number of sector protocols and will require every company to develop a workplace plan before they re-open,” he said.
According to these plans, companies will need to put in place sanitary and social distancing measures and facilities; they will need to screen workers on arrival each day, quarantine those who may be infected and make arrangements for them to be tested.
“They also need to assist with contact tracing if employees test positive.
Because of their vulnerability, all staff who are older than 60 years of age and those who suffer from underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer should ideally stay at home,” the President said.
Employees who can work from home should be allowed to do so.
Subject to these measures, all manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, information technology, communications, government services and media services, will commence full reopening from 1 June.
The appropriate restart and phasing in arrangements will need to be put in place for every workplace.
“Wholesale and retail trade will be fully opened, including stores, spaza shops and informal traders. E-commerce will continue to remain open.
Other sectors that opened previously, such as agriculture and forestry, utilities, medical services, food production and manufacture of hygiene products, will remain fully opened,” he said.
High-risk economic activities prohibited
High-risk economic activities will remain prohibited. These include:
- Restaurants, bars and taverns, except for delivery or collection of food.
- 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.
Movement of people and sale of alcohol
People will be able to exercise at any time during the day, provided this is not done in groups. The curfew on the movement of people will be lifted.
“Alcohol may be sold for home consumption only under strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours.
Announcements in this regard will be made once we have concluded discussions with the sector on the various conditions,” the President said.
The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert level 3, due to the health risks associated with smoking.
“All gatherings will remain prohibited, except for funerals with no more than 50 people or meetings in the workplace for work purposes,” he said.
South Africa has recorded a total of 22 583 COVID-19 cases, with 11 000 active cases and 429 deaths.
“Of these [11 000 active cases] 842 patients are in hospital and 128 of these are in intensive care. The number of infected people could have been much higher had we not acted when we did to impose drastic containment measures,” the President said.
He expressed concern for the City of Cape Town in the Western Cape which now has more than half the total infections in the country.
“We are attending to this as a matter of urgency,” he said.
More than 580 000 Coronavirus tests have been conducted and more than 12 million screenings have been done to date.
“There are nearly 60 000 community health workers who have been going door-to-door across the country to identify possible cases of Coronavirus.
“In preparation for the expected increase in infections, around 20 000 hospital beds have been, and are being, repurposed for COVID-19 cases, and 27 field hospitals are being built around the country.
A number of these hospitals are ready to receive Coronavirus patients,” said the President.
Photo: Joey Nel