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Ramaphosa announces relaxation of lockdown from 1 May

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President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that South Africa, currently under a hard “Stage 5” lockdown, will relax some restrictions from Friday, 1 May 2020, which will allow some businesses to start a phased recommencement of activities.

More details of the relaxation would be announced by the responsible ministers in the coming days.

Ramaphosa outlined the five levels of lockdown that will guide the country’s response to the containment of the spread of the Covid-19 virus. These five levels will be applied at a national, provincial, municipal and district level.

  • Level 5: this is the most severe form of lockdown, such as the country is now experiencing, where all but the most essential businesses are prohibited. All forms of public gathering are likewise banned.
  • Level 4: Some activity is allowed subject to extreme precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Level 3: Allows for the easing some restrictions on work and social activities, but with social distancing and other health requirements remaining in place.
  • Level 2: Allows for a further easing of restrictions, while maintaining social distancing.
  • Level 1: Most activities can be resumed with health guidelines in place.

The move from Level 5 to Level 4 means that social distancing, restriction of movement and stringent hygiene practices will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Ramaphosa said the lockdown gave the authorities time to prepare health facilities for an expected surge in Covid-19 cases.

There is clear evidence lockdown is working to stem the spread of the virus, he added, along with other measures such as the closure of borders. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has commended SA for acting swiftly and for following scientific advice to slow spread of virus.

“Beyond 30 April, we begin a gradual and phased recovery of economic activity. Implement risk-adjusted strategy through which we take a deliberate and cautious approach to easing restrictions,” said Ramaphosa.

There is still much that is unknown about the rate and spread of virus, and further relaxations in lockdown rules will be guided by advice from scientists. An uncontrolled relaxation risks a rapid spread of virus which would necessitate another hard lockdown.

The various government ministries are currently conducting a detailed assessment of the economy and its various industries, as well as the risk of transmission of the disease and effect on the livelihoods of all South Africans. All industry bodies will be given a chance to make submissions to motivate for a phased return to work.

Some businesses will be allowed to resume operations from 1 May 2020 under specific conditions. Every business will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols. They will be required to recommence operations in a phased manner, first preparing the workplace for a return to the workplace, followed by a return of no more than one-third of workers in the beginning stages. More details on the exact procedures to be followed are to be spelt out next week.

Businesses are being encouraged to follow a work-from-home strategy where possible.

“As we ease restrictions, many of the measures to contain the spread of the virus remain in place,” said Ramaphosa.

On 1 May 2020, the borders will remain closed except to allow for the repatriation of SA nationals to this country, and for the return of foreign citizens to their countries. No travel will be allowed between provinces, except for the transport of goods and exceptional circumstances, such as funerals. All passengers must wear a face mask.

People will be allowed to exercise. The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions will be required to remain home.

The sale of cigarettes will be permitted, and the range of goods allowed to be sold will be expanded.

Public meetings except for funerals remain banned. Bars and shebeens will remain closed. Conference centres, theatres, sporting events, and religious and cultural and social gatherings will not be allowed until it is deemed safe.

The next phase of the government response to the containment of the virus will involve a huge increase in community screening.