Confirmed: Curfew lifted, alcohol sales back, exercise at any time, but tobacco still banned

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa. AFP/File/Phill Magakoe
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday about developments in South Africa’s risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of Covid-19.

The Citizen reported, he announced that the whole country would be moving to alert level 3 on 1 June.

“Even as we move to alert level 3, we must be conscious of a few parts of the country where the disease is concentrated.”

He said these areas would be declared coronavirus hot spots, with more than five cases per 100,000, or cases rising at a high rate.

He said Cape Town’s infections were being handled as a matter of urgency.

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Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Ethekwini, Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City were among current hot spots.

West Coast, Overberg, Cape Winelands, the Chris Hani District and iLembe were also hot spots.

Any area of the country could independently be moved to alert level 4 or 5 if the infections reached worrying levels.

The plan was to try to get as much of the country as possible to alert levels 2 or 1.

“The opening of more sectors of the economy means more public servants will also have to return to work.”

Ramaphosa said there were now 22,583 confirmed cases of Covid-19 cases in the country, with around half of the people having recovered. “Tragically, some 429 people have lost their lives.”

There were just over 842 people in hospital for the virus, with 128 in ICU. He said the “drastic containment measures” that had been implemented had paid dividends.

580,000 tests had been done, with 12 million screenings.

Around 20,000 hospital beds had been repurposed for the virus, with 27 hospitals ready to receive patients.

There had been a shortage of testing kits, contributing to “lengthy turnaround times” which had affected effectiveness, which was being “attended to”.

“We have known all along the lockdown would only delay the spread of the virus. But it would not be able to stop it, until there is a vaccine. We must get used to living with this coronavirus for some time to come.”

Ramaphosa said the “vaccines industry” in South Africa would be part of distributing any vaccine.

He said that one-third of all cases had been recorded in the last week alone, and people should be prepared for a bigger and faster rise. Various models had been put together and told government two important things: things would get much worse before they got better, and secondly, and importantly, the scale and impact of the pandemic would be determined by people’s behaviour.

“We can together reduce both the numbers of infections and the number of deaths.”

He then described how he and government had consulted widely on how to implement regulations at lockdown level 3, including political parties, labour, business and scientific experts, including the Ministerial Advisory Committee, which was giving them the “best scientific evidence”.

Amid disagreement among these scientists, the president said he appreciated debate.

He said that everyone apparently agreed “broadly” with him that government had done the right thing in enforcing a lockdown.

Ramaphosa asked those who did not need to leave their homes to work to continue to work at home.

People would now be allowed to exercise at any time of day, as long as they were not in groups.

The curfew hours would also be lifted.

Alcohol would be allowed to be sold at specific times, for off-site consumption. The details were still to be announced.

However, the ban on tobacco products would continue “for health reasons”.

He said that all staff older than 60 or suffering with underlying health issues should “ideally” be allowed to work from home.

He listed a range of industries that would commence full-time reopening. “Appropriate restart and phasing-in requirements will need to be taken.”

Wholesale and retail trade would be fully open.

High risk activities and locations would remain closed, including restaurants, bars and taverns, accommodation and domestic air travel, conferences, events, entertainment and sporting events, beauty and hair care.

Schools would be reopened starting with grades 7 and 12, but no parent would be forced to send their child to school if they had concerns about safety. He also confirmed that no more than a third of students would be allowed to return to campuses.

Ramaphosa undertook to engage further with religious leaders on how to allow spiritual worship.

Commuters would have to continue to always wear masks when travelling, paticurlarly on public transport, keeping a safe distance and washing their hands.

Businesses were looking at how to reduce congestion on public transport.

Charles Cilliers / The Citizen