President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that the country will be moving to alert level 2 with bans on travel between provinces and the sale of alcohol and tobacco products being lifted.
The easing from level 3 is effective from Monday midnight, with trading in liquor and cigarettes set to resume on Tuesday.
Ramaphosa has been in consultation with various stakeholders since Thursday following advice from health experts that the country has been successful in arresting the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
“We have made progress in our fight against Covid-19. Over the last three weeks, the number of new confirmed cases has dropped from a peak of over 12,000 a day to an average over the past week of around 5,000 a day. The recovery rate from coronavirus has risen from 48% at the time of my last address and now stands at 80%,” Ramaphosa said.
“Fewer people are presenting with symptoms at our health facilities. We are also finding that fewer people are requiring admission in our hospitals and the demand for coronavirus tests has dropped. The number of patients hospitalised has decreased from 10,000 at the beginning of the month to around 4,000.”
The president's announcement comes on day 142 of the nationwide lockdown. Government is now confident that the easing of restrictions will no longer undermine health infrastructure.
“Guided by the advice of our health experts and after consultation with provincial and local government, cabinet has decided to place the entire country on alert level 2, with effect from midnight on Monday, the 17th of August 2020,” said Ramaphosa.
Among the easing of restrictions which will come with level 2 is:
All restrictions on interprovincial travel will be lifted.
Accommodation, hospitality venues and tours will be permitted according to approved protocols to ensure social distancing.
Restaurants, bars and taverns will be permitted to operate according to approved protocols as to times of operation and numbers of people.
Restrictions on the sale of tobacco will be lifted.
The suspension of the sale of alcohol will be lifted subject to certain restrictions.
Alcohol will be permitted for on-site consumption in licensed establishments only up until 10pm.
Liquor outlets will be allowed to sell alcohol for off-site consumption from Monday to Thursday during the hours of 9am to 5pm only.
Restrictions on family and social visits will also be lifted, though everyone is urged to exercise extreme caution and undertake such visits only if necessary.
A curfew will also remain in place between the hours of 10pm and 4am.
While domestic flights have been permitted since level 3, international travel remains restricted.
Government is urging South Africans to continue with social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene. It also wants those who can, to work from home.
A team of 43 health experts from the World Health Organisation touched down in the country this week and will be bolstering government’s efforts even as the country anticipates a second peak.
Government will now focus its energies on rebuilding the economy which was already on its knees even before the global pandemic which has all but collapsed it. Millions of jobs have been lost, with the number still set to grow.
The president is urging South Africans to continue with social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene, it also wants those who can to work from home.
“We have weathered a long and difficult storm. We have endured great hardship and suffered unbearable losses. But we have stood firm against this onslaught. We have taken action to protect ourselves, our communities and our country. A ray of light is visible on the horizon. Let us continue to exercise the greatest caution and care, and remain ever-vigilant.”
Alert level 2 means there is a moderate Covid-19 spread of the virus with a relatively high health system readiness.
Saturday night's announcement came as co-operative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma published a government gazette extending the Covid-19 state of disaster for another month, until September 15.
Dlamini-Zuma said the extension took into account “the need to continue augmenting the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by organs of state to address the impact of the disaster”.
Ramaphosa's address followed a meeting of the national coronavirus command council (NCCC) on Tuesday and meetings of the president’s co-ordinating council and cabinet on Saturday.
Co-operative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel are expected to reveal details of the new level of lockdown early next week.
Signs virus has peaked in three provinces
During his address to the nation on Saturday night, Ramaphosa said in the five months since the declaration of the national state of disaster to combat the coronavirus, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll — “on the health of our people, on families and communities, on the public health system, on the economy and on people’s everyday lives.” But, there are now signs of hope.
“All indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the inflection point of the curve.
“Most of our health facilities have proven resilient, capable and able to withstand and deal with the surge.
“The modelled projections of infections, hospitalisation and deaths have had to be adjusted downwards as we have recorded better progress in the management of the disease.”
Over the last three weeks, Ramaphosa said, the number of new confirmed cases has dropped from a peak of over 12,000 a day to an average over the past week of around 5,000 a day.
The recovery rate from coronavirus has risen from 48% at the time of my last address and now stands at 80%.
“The cumulative number of cases in our country remains extremely high at 583,653. However, the number of active cases is declining every day, and now stands at around 105,000.
“The virus appears to have peaked in several provinces, including the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and possibly in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Fewer people are presenting with symptoms at our health facilities.
“We are also finding that fewer people are requiring admission in our hospitals and the demand for coronavirus tests has dropped.
“The number of patients hospitalised has decreased from 10,000 at the beginning of the month to around 4,000. This is significantly reducing the pressure on our health facilities.”
As of Saturday, 11,667 people are confirmed to have died from Covid-19 in SA, the president announced.
“We mourn each and every one who has passed away and the many more that we may not yet know about. The deaths of so many people in such a short space of time due to a virus such as this is a human tragedy of proportions that we would not have expected to befall our nation at a time of peace and democracy.
“It remains our foremost concern in the weeks and months that lie ahead to continue to save lives.”
Ramaphosa paid tribute to medical personnel and other front-line workers who have been at the forefront of our national response.
He cautioned that as restrictions are eased, the risk of infection does not diminish — appealing to the public to maintain adherence to social distancing, frequent hand washing and other safety protocols.
“In fact, the risk of infection becomes greater as more people return to work, as they move about more and as there are more opportunities to interact.
“Even the slightest lapse in our alertness at this moment could lead to a resurgence in infections at a rate and on a scale far greater than what we have seen so far.”
Economic recovery plan under discussion
Ramaphosa said the battle against Covid-19 required a careful balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
“The move to level 2 means that we can remove nearly all of the restrictions on the resumption of economic activity across most industries.
“Following the measures we have put in place as part of the R500bn social and economic relief package, we continue to engage with our social partners in business and labour on how to sustain and improve the support being provided to companies, employees and households.
“The further easing of restrictions presents us with the greatest opportunity since the start of the pandemic to breathe life into our struggling economy.
“Even as we open up economic activity, it will take a long time for industries and businesses to recover, and there is much work still to be done.”
Ramaphosa said he had met representatives of government, labour, business and community in Nedlac recently.
“We are now working together on an urgent economic recovery programme that places the protection and creation of employment at its centre.
“We will be making announcements on the outcome of this work in the next few weeks.
“We will use this moment not only to return South Africa to where it was before, but to transform our country to a more equal, more just and more dynamic economy.”
The go-ahead for the sale of tobacco products and alcohol follows an uproar in the industries over the prohibition. Finance minister Tito Mboweni had publicly expressed his unhappiness with the move which has severely affected the country’s ability to collect revenue.
Cigarettes have been prohibited since end-March. The sale and distribution of alcohol was reintroduced in June, more than two months after a ban was implemented on March 27. But a second ban was imposed in July with Ramaphosa insisting it was to help reduce trauma-related injuries in hospitals.
South African Breweries on Saturday night welcomed the resumption of the sale of alcohol beverages.
“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the country’s economy. It is now the imperative of all South Africans to participate in ensuring a sustainable and inclusive economic growth path,” said Zoleka Lisa, vice-president of corporate affairs at SAB.
“Over one-million livelihoods depend on the alcohol industry’s value chain, and 250,000 livelihoods depend on SAB alone. We are looking forward to reinitiating the process of job creation and responsible growth for the industry, with an ultimate objective of returning confidence to ensure sustainability for all these livelihoods.”