The ministers released a document described as “Draft Framework for Sectors” detailing how the various levels will impact on industry, businesses, individuals, transport and so on.
“This is not the time to beat the system. It is time to work together. This is not a punishment. It is for our collective good. That is how we will move to Level 3,” the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma said as she explained what Level 4 meant.
On Thursday (23 April) President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the government has designed a risk assessment system to decide to what extent lockdown will be lifted. He declared the outbreak of coronavirus infections in the country to be a national disaster on March 15 and imposed a nationwide lockdown from March 27 that meant nobody but essential workers were allowed to go to work. The hard lockdown was a response to a Level 5 risk, Ramaphosa explained before continuing to say that from 1 May the country will be at Level 4 and that this will allow for a few restrictions to be lifted.
Alcohol will still not be for sale on Level 4 and the Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, said the sale of Lotto tickets have also been stopped.
More products can be ordered online, Patel said, adding that e-commerce, spaza shops and informal traders can increase the number of products for sale. These would include winter clothes, heaters and blankets.
He said hot meals that are ordered online and delivered to people will be allowed.
Dr Anban Pillay, the acting director-general in the Department of Health said at this stage any industry that requires close personal interaction like hairdressers and beauticians will not be allowed.
Dlamini-Zuma said regulations that describe the conditions under which people will be able to exercise will be published on Thursday (30 April). Despite several questions, she refused to elaborate about what type of exercise will be allowed – apart from adding that group exercises will be prohibited and the gyms will remain closed.
She added that a plan to reopen schools and universities will be announced on Monday.
“We have not faced such an extensive pandemic since the Spanish Flu (1918 to 1920). In South Africa, we lost more than 300,000 people. We don’t want to go there this time. Pandemics do depress economies. It will be more or the same as the Great Depression. We were already in a weak economic position,” she said.
She said Level 4 is still lockdown but “a few things will change.” “It is an easier lockdown,” she said.
“The lockdown is not gone. There will be few changes. There will be more people and more companies opening up and going to work. That is the major change,” she said.
She reminded the country that the reason for the lockdown was to slow down the rate of infections so that it doesn’t overwhelm the health system.
“Nobody can say: I will keep myself healthy. Our health is interlinked,” she said.
She added that the virus had exposed the deep fault lines in South Africa as hunger, poverty, unemployment, inequality and a spatial planning scheme inherited from the apartheid government and never really changed by the democratic government.
“All these things contribute to how we must behave and deal with the pandemic,” she said. “If we move down to Level 4 and we do not stick to the restrictions and the virus starts speeding up the government will have no option but to swiftly move back to Level 5,” she said.
She said restrictions on inter-provincial travel will remain except for people returning to work or school and for people going to funerals. She added that the country’s borders remained closed for international travel.
“Other than that, remain where you are,” she added. She added that they are considering a curfew. According to government documents issued after the lockdown, this will be from 8pm to 5am.
She said they will also require South Africans to stay at home unless they are expected to go to work. “Visiting is still not allowed.”
“We should not feel overwhelmed but should see it as a challenge,” she added.
She said the infection rate in the country’s big metros were still high (indicated as red on a map of South Africa) and warned people to stop going home to rural areas. “Otherwise the whole country will soon be red,” she said.
“There may come a time where we will start differentiating the levels – but for now we were all on Level 5 and we are all going to be on Level 4,” she said.
She said it is now mandatory for people to wear a cloth mask when they leave their homes. “When you leave your house, you must have a cloth mask. It is mandatory. If you don’t have a mask you can use a scarf or a T-shirt. On our website we show you how to make a mask,” she said.
Patel said the textile sector is also allowed to go back to work so that people can buy fabric for masks.
Dlamini-Zuma emphasised that social gatherings are still forbidden:
“Weddings are still out. The only exception is the funerals and going to work,” she said.
She said restrictions on public transport will be eased to some extent to allow people to go to work. “Taxis must be sanitised after taking a load. The 70% capacity rule will be kept. As the economy opens the Minister of Transport will announce the change of times and if we are adding buses and trains. There will be conditions. The transport is a supportive industry to economic activity but can also be a source of infection.”
Dlamini-Zuma said e-hailing taxis will also be allowed. Travel in private cars is allowed but there is a passenger limit of three per car.
She added that by allowing a greater number of products to be sold, the government considered the well-being of communities.
“We are going into winter. In a few weeks, or a month, the temperatures will drop. People will need winter clothes. We will have to open that up. People do need winter clothes. We may need heaters,” she said adding that all of these products will be available for sale.
Dlamini-Zuma said while more people will be allowed to return to work, people should be allowed to work from home. “Those who are over 60 must work at home as much as possible and must remain at home.”
She also said unless strict sanitising measures are in place the use of biometrics is discouraged.
“Limiting the number of people who attend funerals is not enough. If people are exchanging spades or shovels at a funeral when they close the grave, they may all be infected. It is important to sanitise hands and wear a mask.”
She said buffets, where a single spoon is used to dish up, are also spreading the virus at funerals. “Also in some cultures when we return from the grave we all wash our hands in one basin. We will need to stop that. There are many cultural changes that we need to address,” she said.
She also requested awareness about personal distancing at the workplace. “There should be no hugging and kissing. Whether you haven’t seen a person in a long time or not, if you want to greet them with elbows or feet or better just wave,” she said.
Both Dlamini-Zuma and Patel stressed that extensive consultation with industry will happen before regulations are published and gazetted next week.
Patel explained that they took into account a number of risk factors in their decision to allow certain parts of the industry to reopen in a phased way.
“The first is the risk of transmission that a sector poses as well as the number of people who will be allowed to travel to work or to shops. We also looked at the expected impact of full lockdown on a sector and that specific sector’s contribution and economic linkage to the broader economy. We also considered the livelihood of the most vulnerable members of our society.
“It has been a difficult and complex process and a hard balancing act. People want to return to work. We need to strike a careful balance with containing the spread of the virus. The factors are all important,” he said.
“We need to work as hard as possible to bring the risk level down. If the country can move below Level 4, even more businesses can open. The big focus must be on lowering the risk levels,” he said.
He said there will also be greater levels of workplace testing in large companies.
“We have been informed that for the next 6 to 8 months, the virus will still be very active. We will have to change the way workplaces are set up,” he added.
“We need to strike a careful balance, if we move too fast we risk a rapid rise in infections. If we move to slow we prolong the economic downturn. We recognise that,” he said.
He said they are estimating that the new regulations will allow 1.5 million of South Africans to return to work. “That is more than 4 out of 10 employed people. Their return to the workplace will be done in phases,” he said.
He said the all of the industries in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors including the transport of livestock and the animal auctions will be allowed to open.
Patel said they are also allowing the partial opening of manufacturing businesses to test systems to prevent the transmission of the virus. At this stage, 20% of workers will be allowed to return to work in some sectors and a higher percentage in others.
These will include children’s clothing, winter clothing, blanket manufacturing and other bedding, computers and mobile phones, some car manufacturing and component industries, hardware, cement and stationery production.
He added that the retail sector, including informal traders and spaza shops, will be allowed to sell winter clothes, blankets, heaters but also stationery, educational books, laptops and cellphones.
Patel said mineworkers have already started to return in batches. “There are large numbers of workers involved.”
Open-cast mines will also be allowed to open.
Those working in professional services including engineering, legal, accounting and other key services will be allowed to return to work and call centres’ will expand their activities.
He said recycling centres, including the informal recyclers (waste pickers) will be allowed to return to work.
Patel added that restaurants and takeaways will be allowed open but food can only be delivered at people’s homes. “This is an opportunity to create food delivery in townships as well,” he added.
In a detailed document published by the Department setting out which industries can return to work, government stated that people who are taking care of the elderly or the ill will also be allowed to return to work as well as those providing social work for these patients. DM/MC