Speaking on Thursday night about South Africa’s next steps in its fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on the country’s next steps in easing the lockdown.
You can read the full speech in the president’s own words at the end of this article.
He said a risk-adjusted strategy would be implemented from the start of May to take a scientifically guided approach to allow more activities.
“This approach is guided by the advice of scientists who have advised that an abrupt and uncontrolled lifting of restrictions could lead to a massive surge of infections.”
He said such a surge would lead to the need for another hard lockdown.
“To achieve this we have developed an approach that determines the measures we should have in place based on the direction of the virus.
“The public is encouraged to stay at home, other than for essential personal movement, doing essential work and work in sectors that are under controlled opening. People can exercise under strict public health conditions.”
He in effect confirmed that a document leaked earlier in the week discussing five levels of risk would guide the approach taken.
You can read about that here.
He said the country was currently in level 5 and would enter level 4 from Friday.
The president advised that the details of how the system would work to implement a phased reopening of every sector of the economy would be given by each of the relevant ministers in the days ahead.
“We will give all industry bodies an opportunity to consider these details and, should they wish, to make submissions before new regulations are gazetted.”
Numerous products would be returning to shelves, including cigarettes, and even possibly alcohol if the country could reach level 3, though he did not explicitly confirm that.
“The range of goods that may be sold will be extended to incorporate certain additional categories. These will be detailed by the relevant ministers,” was all he said.
The president went on to say that the more than 70,000 defence force staff he had authorised for deployment in South Africa was an important step in supporting the country in the battle against the virus.
“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: Bars and shebeens will remain closed.
“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.
“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.”
The president spoke about the need for the public to wear masks, and at the end of his speech tried to put on a mask himself, with mixed results.
Ramaphosa had earlier repeated well-known facts about the nature of Covid-19, pointing out that it could spread rapidly through any population and overwhelm even well-resourced health systems within a matter of weeks, which was why South Africa had opted to go into a hard lockdown.
No country was equipped to deal with an exponential increase in the numbers of people needing treatment for a respiratory disease.
“We have been forced to adapt to a new way of living. We must remember why we are here. Covid-19 has spread rapidly across the world.”
He said the objective of the declaration of the national state of disaster was to delay the spread of the virus.
“Our approach has been based on the principles of social distancing, restriction of movement and stringent sanitation practices.”
He said the hope was that tens of thousands of lives could be saved by measures such as the lockdown and other measures such as the shutting down of the border. The World Health Organisation had praised the country for acting swiftly and following scientific advice.
“While a nationwide lockdown is probably the best way to contain the spread of the virus, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.”
He said people would need to eat, and business would have to continue.
How will the five levels work? (Please note much of this info will still need to be confirmed by government)
According to an already leaked government document this week, certain specified things will be allowed or disallowed on the basis of the alert level announced by the state at any particular moment.
At level five, the crisis level will be at its highest and the most stringent measures will be applied to limit the spread of the coronavirus. At level one, most activities will be allowed, though social distancing measures and sanitation practices will always have to be observed.
Gatherings of more than 10 people will also not be allowed and venues such as theatres and stadiums will remain closed to the public along with restaurants, bars, shebeens and other places where the public normally gathers in groups.
However, at lower levels of threat, alcohol will be allowed for purchase from retailers during certain hours, along with most other everyday products.
Restrictions on economic activity need to be adapted to epidemiological trends, and may need to be relaxed and tightened in different periods. An alert system will be created with clearly defined levels of restriction that can be imposed by the National Command Council as necessary.
Different regions and provinces could find themselves on different alert levels depending on their local circumstances:
- If lockdown regulations are amended to allow some economic activity to resume, it is possible that the infection rate will accelerate and that the virus will resurge. In this scenario, it would be necessary to quickly revert to more stringent restrictions in order to arrest further transmission.
- An “alert system” with four to five levels would allow for flexibility and responsiveness, and would reduce the need to amend regulations in future.
- At each level restrictions would be more or less severe, and sectors and companies would know what activity is permitted depending on the level imposed at any time.
- Government would be able to switch between levels with far greater speed, and could use mass communications platforms (such as an SMS notification system) to signal this to the public.
- Different levels could be imposed in specific provinces and areas based on the risk of transmission.
- A gradual transition between alert levels can be implemented where necessary.
- Detailed health protocols should be imposed at all levels of alert.
The following restrictions would remain in place after the national lockdown, and regardless of the level of alert at any given time:
- Sit-in restaurants and hotels
- Bars and shebeens
- Conference and convention centres
- Entertainment venues, including cinemas, theatres, and concerts
- Sporting events
- Religious, cultural and social gatherings
- No gatherings of more than 10 people outside of a workplace will be permitted.
- Passengers on all modes of transport must wear a cloth mask to be allowed entry into the vehicle. Hand sanitisers must be made available, and all passengers must sanitise their hands before entering. Public transport vehicles must be sanitised on a daily basis.
The following rules will be imposed across all sectors and alert levels, the presentation continues:
- Industries are encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible, and all staff who can work remotely must be allowed to do so.
- Workers above the age of 60, as well as workers with comorbidities identified by the Department of Health should be offered a work-from-home option or allowed to remain on leave with full pay.
- There should be workplace protocols in place that would include disease surveillance and prevention of the spread of infection.
- All employers to screen staff on a daily basis for symptoms of Covid-19, including a symptom check as well as temperature assessment.
- All employees to use a cloth mask especially where social distancing is not possible.
- Work environment to have sanitisers available or hand washing facilities with soap.
- Stringent social distancing measures should be implemented in the workplace.
Understanding what each level could mean
At level 5, with high virus spread, and/or low health system readiness, only essential services will be allowed.
- Bus services, taxi services, e-hailing and private motor vehicles may operate at restricted times, with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirements.
- No inter-provincial movement of people, except for transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances (e.g. funerals).
At level 4, with moderate to high virus spread, and with moderate readiness, all essential services will be allowed, plus:
- Food retail stores already permitted to be open permitted may sell full line of products within existing stock.
- All agriculture (horticulture, export agriculture including wool and wine, floriculture and horticulture, and related processing).
- Forestry, pulp and paper.
- Mining (open cast mines at 100% capacity, all other mines at 50%).
- All financial and professional services Global business services for export markets.
- Postal and telecommunications services.
- Fibre optic and IT services.
- Formal waste recycling (glass, plastic, paper and metal).
- Bus services, taxi services, e- hailing and private motor vehicles may operate at all times of the day, with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirements.
- No inter-provincial movement of people, except for transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances (e.g. funerals).
At level 3, with moderate virus spread, and moderate readiness, the following will be allowed:
- Licensing and permitting services, deeds offices and other government services designated by the Minister of Public Service and Administration.
- Take-away restaurants and online food delivery.
- Liquor retail within restricted hours.
- Clothing retail.
- Hardware stores.
- Stationery, personal electronics and office equipment production and retail.
- Books and educational products.
- E-commerce and delivery services.
- Clothing and textiles manufacturing (at 50% capacity).
- Automotive manufacturing.
- Cement and steel.
- Machinery and equipment.
- Global Business Services.
- SANRAL construction and maintenance.
- Transnet at 100%.
- Bus services, taxi services, e-hailing and private motor vehicles may operate at all times of the day, with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirements.
- Limited passenger rail restored, with stringent hygiene conditions in place.
- Limited domestic air travel, with a restriction on the number of flights per day and authorisation based on the reason for travel.
- No inter-provincial movement of people, except for transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances (e.g. funerals).
At level 2, with moderate virus spread, and with high readiness, the following will be permitted:
- All other retail.
- All other manufacturing
- Mining (all mines at 100% capacity).
- All government services Installation, repairs and maintenance.
- Domestic work and cleaning services.
- Informal waste-pickers.
- Domestic air travel restored.
- Car rental services restored.
- Movement between provinces at level 1 and 2 restrictions.
At level 1, with low virus spread, and high health system readiness:
- All sectors.
- All modes of transport, with stringent hygiene conditions in place.
- Interprovincial movement allowed, with restrictions on international travel.
To make the determination of which sectors should be allowed to resume activity at each level of alert, three criteria will be considered:
- Risk of transmission (including the ease of implementing mitigation measures).
- Expected impact on the sector of continued lockdown (including prior vulnerability).
- Value of the sector to the economy (e.g. contribution to GDP, multiplier effects, export earnings).
Any decision about whether to institute a lower alert level will be made by the National Command Council based on evidence gathered during the week about the spread of the virus.
Ramaphosa’s address followed a meeting of the National Command Council held earlier today and consultations with several stakeholders, including leaders of political parties represented in Parliament.
My Fellow South Africans,
It has been exactly seven weeks since the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed in our country.
Since then, all our lives have changed in fundamental ways.
As a nation we have been forced to take aggressive action against an invisible enemy that threatened our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
We have been forced to adapt to a new way of living, in a short space of time.
As we enter the fifth week of an unprecedented nation-wide lockdown – and as we look to the future – we should remember why we are here.
The novel coronavirus, which was identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year, has spread rapidly across the world.
To date, over 2.6 million confirmed cases have been reported worldwide.
The actual number of people infected is likely to be far higher.
The coronavirus causes the disease known as COVID-19, a respiratory illness for which humans currently have no immunity and for which there is no known cure.
The coronavirus is passed from person to person in small droplets from the nose and mouth that can be transmitted by direct contact, on surfaces we touch or when an infected person coughs or sneezes when they are close to another person.
Most infected people exhibit only mild symptoms; some do not show any symptoms at all.
But there are people who develop severe symptoms and require hospitalisation.
These are usually older people and those who suffer from underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.
For some of these people, COVID-19 is fatal.
Across the world, more than 185,000 people have succumbed to the disease.
Here in South Africa, at least 75 people have lost their lives.
Because the coronavirus can spread so rapidly through a population, it can overwhelm even the best-resourced health system within a matter of weeks.
This is what has occurred in many countries across the world, and it is precisely what we, as South Africa, have gone to great lengths to prevent.
Very few health systems across the world – if any – are prepared for a sudden and exponential increase in people requiring treatment for a severe respiratory illness.
As a result, if the virus spreads too quickly, there are not enough hospital beds, intensive care units, ventilators, personal protection equipment or medicine for everyone who needs them.
To make matters worse, people who are suffering from other conditions or need emergency procedures are unable to get the care they need.
And in such circumstances, many lives that could have been saved, are lost.
I am reiterating these basic facts – which by now are probably familiar to many of you – because they explain the actions we have taken to date and they inform the measures I am announcing this evening.
From the moment we declared the coronavirus pandemic to be a national disaster on Sunday 15 March, our objective was to delay the spread of the virus.
We have sought to avoid a massive surge in infections and an uncontrollable increase in the number of people needing medical care.
Our approach has been based on the principles of social distancing, restriction of movement and stringent basic hygiene practices.
By delaying the spread of the virus, we have had time to prepare our health facilities and mobilise some of the essential medical supplies needed to meet the inevitable increase in infections.
And it is in so doing, that we hope to save tens of thousands of lives.
There is clear evidence that the lockdown has been working.
Together with the other measures we have taken – such as closing our borders – and the changes in behaviour that each of us has made, the lockdown has slowed the progression of the pandemic in the country.
The World Health Organization has commended South Africa for acting swiftly and for following scientific advice to delay the spread of the virus.
Yet, 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.
We will implement a risk adjusted strategy through which we take a deliberate and cautious approach to the easing of current lockdown restrictions.
We have decided on this approach because there is still much that is unknown about the rate and manner of the spread of the virus within our population.
The action we take now must therefore be measured and incremental.
This approach is guided by the advice from scientists who have advised that an abrupt and uncontrolled lifting of restrictions could cause a massive resurgence in infections.
We cannot take action today that we will deeply regret tomorrow.
We must avoid a rushed re-opening that could risk a spread, which would need to be followed by another hard lockdown, as has happened in other countries.
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.
As part of this approach, there will be five coronavirus levels:
Level 5 means that drastic measures are required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives.
Level 4 means that some activity can be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.
Level 3 involves the easing of some restrictions, including on work and social activities, to address a high risk of transmission.
Level 2 involves the further 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 means that most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times.
To ensure that our 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.
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.
The National Coronavirus Command Council will determine the alert level based on an assessment of the infection rate and the capacity of our health system to provide care to those who need it.
We have 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.
The relevant Ministers will provide a detailed briefing on the classification of industries and how each is affected at each level.
We will give all industry bodies an opportunity to consider these details and, should they wish, to make submissions before new regulations are gazetted.
The National Coronavirus Command Council met earlier today and 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.
These will be spelt out next week following a final round of consultations.
Businesses will be encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible.
All staff who can work remotely must be allowed to do so.
The relevant Ministers will provide details on the process for the phased re-opening of schools and other educational institutions.
As we gradually ease the restrictions, it is necessary that many of the measures to contain the spread of the virus remain in place.
When the country moves to level 4 on 1 May:
Our borders will remain closed to international travel, except for the repatriation of South African nationals and foreign citizens.
No travel will be allowed between provinces, except for the transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances such as funerals.
Public transport will continue to operate, with limitations on the number of passengers and stringent hygiene requirements, including that all passengers must wear a face mask.
The public is encouraged to stay at home, other than for essential personal movement, doing essential work and work in sectors that are under controlled opening. People can exercise under strict public health conditions.
All gatherings, apart from funerals and for work, will remain prohibited.
Those who are elderly, and those with underlying conditions, must remain at home and take additional precautions to isolate themselves.
The sale of cigarettes will be permitted.
The range of goods that may be sold will be extended to incorporate certain additional categories. These will be detailed by the relevant Ministers.
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:
Bars and shebeens will remain closed.
Conference and convention centres, entertainment venues, cinemas, theatres, and concerts will remain closed.
Concerts, sporting events, and religious, cultural and social gatherings will not be allowed until it is deemed safe for them to continue.
The coronavirus is spread by contact between people.
If people do not travel, the virus does not travel.
We know, for example, that just one funeral in Port St Johns and one religious gathering in Mangaung contributed to a spate of infections in their respective provinces.
From the evidence we have, we know that 75 percent of confirmed coronavirus cases are found in just six metro municipalities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Cape Town, Buffalo City, EThekwini and Mangaung.
It is therefore essential that we do everything in our means to restrict the movement of people and – although it runs counter to our very nature – to reduce the contact that each of us has with each other.
Ultimately, it is our own actions, as individuals, that will determine how quickly the virus spreads.
If we all adhere to instructions and follow public health guidelines, we will keep the virus under control and will not need to reinstate the most drastic restrictions.
We can prevent the spread of coronavirus by doing a few simple things.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol based sanitiser.
Keep a distance of more than one metre between yourself and the next person, especially those who are coughing and sneezing.
Try not to touch your mouth, nose and eyes because your hands may have touched the coronavirus on surfaces.
When you cough or sneeze cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue, and dispose of the tissue right away.
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.
Our clothing and textile industry – including many small businesses – are gearing up to produce these masks on a mass scale.
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.
We are 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.
As we slowly ease the lockdown restrictions, we are substantially and rapidly increasing our public health response.
We have already seen a huge increase in community screening and testing.
Guided by advice from the World Health Organization and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, we have joined other African countries in placing mass screening and testing at the centre of the next phase of our response.
Earlier in the week, I announced an additional allocation of R20 billion to our health response to ensure that we have the beds, medicine, equipment and personnel required when the country experiences the peak of infections.
This evening, I also want 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.
It is thanks to your efforts that we have been able to make such valuable progress in combating this pandemic.
As part of expanding this effort, I have employed over 70,000 defence force personnel to assist with various parts of our coronavirus response.
Until now, those defence force members that have been deployed have supported the South African Police Service in their responsibilities.
They will continue to do so, but they will also be providing assistance in other essential areas, such as the provision of water supply, infrastructure maintenance and health services.
This is a crucial moment in our struggle against the coronavirus.
It is a time for caution.
It is a time to act responsibly.
It is a time for patience.
There is no person who doesn’t want to return to work.
There is no company that does not want to re-open.
There is no student who does not want to return to their studies.
Yet, we are all called upon, at some time in our lives, to make great sacrifices for our own future and for the future of others.
There are times when we must endure hardship and difficulty, so that we can enjoy freedom and prosperity into the future.
During the past five weeks, we have demonstrated to the entire world what a nation can achieve with courage, determination and solidarity.
We must not give up now.
I am asking you to stay strong.
I am asking you to remain united.
Stay home, stay safe.
Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.
May God bless South Africa and protect her people.
I thank you.
ISSUED BY THE PRESIDENCY OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
His address can be watched below: