President Cyril Ramaphosa has laid out a roadmap for the phased recovery of the economy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Addressing the nation on Thursday evening, Ramaphosa said with effect from 1 May 2020, some economic activities will be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.
“While a nation-wide lockdown is probably the most effective means to contain the spread of the coronavirus, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.
“Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living. Companies need to be able to produce and to trade, they need to generate revenue and keep their employees in employment.
“We have accordingly decided that beyond Thursday 30 April, we should begin a gradual and phased recovery of economic activity,” said Ramaphosa.
According to Ramaphosa, his administration will implement a risk-adjusted strategy through which they will take a deliberate and cautious approach to the easing of current lockdown restrictions.
This approach has been taken because there is still much that is unknown about the rate and manner of the spread of the virus within the population.
Ramaphosa added that the action being taken now must be measured and incremental as per the scientific advice the presidency is receiving.
Scientists argue that an abrupt and uncontrolled lifting of restrictions could cause a massive resurgence in infections.
“We have to balance the need to resume economic activity with the imperative to contain the virus and save lives.
“To achieve this, we have developed an approach that determines the measures we should have in place based on the direction of the pandemic in our country,” said Ramaphosa.
Level 5: Drastic measures are required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives.
Level 4: Some activity can be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.
Level 3: Easing of some restrictions, including on work and social activities, to address a high risk of transmission.
Level 2: Easing of restrictions, but the maintenance of physical distancing and restrictions on some leisure and social activities to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
Level 1: Most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times.
We are currently at Level 5, which requires a full national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. This is the highest level of lockdown and was imposed when drastic action was necessary to curb transmission.
According to Ramaphosa, the National Coronavirus Command Council will determine the alert level based on an assessment of the infection rate and the capacity of the health system to provide care to those who need it.
To ensure that the 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.
The National Coronavirus Command Council has since determined that the national coronavirus alert level will be lowered from level 5 to level 4 with effect from Friday the 1st of May.
This means that some activity will be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions to limit community transmission and outbreaks.
Some businesses will be allowed to resume operations under specific conditions.
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.
In some cases, a sector will not be able to return to full production during Level 4 while the risk of infection remains high.
As such the South African government has undertaken a detailed exercise to classify the different parts of the economy according to the risk of transmission in that sector, the expected impact of the lockdown, the economic contribution of the sector and the effect on livelihoods.
Relevant Ministers will provide a detailed briefing on the classification of industries and how each is affected at each level. The Ministers are also expected to provide details on the process for the phased re-opening of schools and other educational institutions.
All industry bodies will be given an opportunity to consider these details and make submissions before new regulations are gazetted.
Despite the resolution to lower the alter level from 5 to 4 from the beginning of May, businesses are still encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible.
The range of goods that may be sold will be extended to incorporate certain additional categories.
It is important to note that several restrictions will remain in place regardless of the level of alert for as long as the risk of transmission is present.
President Ramaphosa was quick to commend the behaviour of South Africans during level 5 of the lockdown while cautioning them to continue practicing self-distancing and protect themselves as the economy begins its phased re-opening.
“As we begin the easing of lockdown restrictions from the beginning of May, we are calling on all South Africans to wear a face mask whenever you leave home.
“The extraordinary measures that we have put in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic have been matched by the extraordinary contributions of many South Africans.
We pay tribute to them, the nurses, the doctors, the scientists and the community screening field workers who are leading our public health response,” he said.
The South African government, according to Ramaphosa is committed to ensuring that they have all the resources they need – including adequate personal protection equipment and other recognition – to undertake the work that is being asked of them.
Earlier in the week, Ramaphosa announced an additional allocation of R20 billion to the health response to ensure the availability of beds, medicine, equipment and personnel required when the country experiences the peak of infections.
He went on to pay tribute to those who are providing essential services and goods – the truck, taxi, bus and train drivers; the workers on farms, in stores, at power stations, at water plants, at petrol stations, in banks and in call centres; the law enforcement officials and security personnel.