President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening announced that the whole of South Africa will move to lockdown Level 3 on 1 June.
In a televised address, Ramaphosa said, under Level 3, the national curfew would be removed, alcohol could be sold during certain hours, and there would be no time limit on exercise.
He said the nationwide lockdown had been effective, but it could not be sustained indefinitely.
However, if it was necessary, Ramaphosa said any part of the country could return to alert Levels 4 or 5 if the spread of infection was not contained and if there was a risk of health facilities being overwhelmed.
“I want to emphasise that the easing of some restrictions does not mean that the threat posed by the coronavirus has passed or that our fight against the disease is over,” Ramaphosa said.
“In fact, the risk of a massive increase in infections is now greater than it has been since the start of the outbreak in our country. Now is the time when we must intensify our efforts and deepen our cooperation.”
Here is what you need to know from Ramaphosa’s address.
1. The most effective defence against the virus is the simplest
Ramaphosa said simple hygiene practices, such as the regular washing of hands, wearing a face mask, keeping at least a 1.5 metre distance from other people, avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands, and cleaning surfaces regularly were the most effective defences against the coronavirus.
He said by following such basic defensive practices South Africa could reduce both the number of infections and the number of deaths.
2. South Africa now has 11 000 active Covid-19 patients, and 429 deaths
The country now has 22 583 confirmed coronavirus cases, of which 11 000 are active cases, Ramaphosa said. He said 429 people had died.
“To their families, friends, and colleagues, we offer our deepest sympathies. Your loss is our loss,” Ramaphosa said.
He said there were currently 842 people with Covid-19 in South African hospitals, of which 128 were in intensive care.
3. South Africa has repurposed 20 000 hospital beds for Covid-19, and 27 hospitals are being built
In preparation for the expected increase in infections, around 20 000 hospital beds have been, and are being, repurposed for Covid-19 cases, Ramaphosa said. The country is also building an additional 27 field hospitals.
“A number of these hospitals are ready to receive coronavirus patients.”
He said, by Sunday, the country had conducted over 580 000 coronavirus tests and more than 12 million screenings by 60 000 community health workers, who had been going door-to-door to identify possible cases of coronavirus.
4. South Africa has a shortage of Covid-19 tests
Owing to the great demand across the world, South Africa has a shortage of diagnostic medical supplies, which has contributed to lengthy turnaround times for coronavirus testing, Ramaphosa said.
“[This] in turn has had an impact on the effectiveness of our programmes.”
5. A vaccine developed anywhere in the world should be made freely available
Ramaphosa said the government is supporting and funding several research projects, including a plan to locally manufacture coronavirus vaccines as soon as candidates are available.
He said the government has argued that, should a vaccine be developed anywhere in the world, it should be made freely and equitably available to citizens of all countries.
However, Ramaphosa said, until a vaccine becomes available, the coronavirus will continue to spread and people therefore have to become used to living with the virus.
6. SA’s Covid-19 cases will now rise sharply
One-third of the cumulative confirmed cases in South Africa were recorded in the last week alone, Ramaphosa said.
He said, as scientists had predicted, the infections in the country have now started to rise sharply.
According to models that have been developed, the pandemic is going to get much worse before it gets better, Ramaphosa said.
7. There are areas of difference with the Ministerial Advisory Committee
In light of the public spat between Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and scientist Glenda Gray, Ramaphosa hinted at differences of opinion among members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), but added that the committee broadly agreed with the approach taken thus far.
“We appreciate the diverse and sometimes challenging views of the scientists and health professionals in our country, which stimulate public debate and enrich our response,” Ramaphosa said.
He said the committee was united in their insistence that the government’s central goal must be to save lives and protect livelihoods.
8. South Africa will have a differentiated approach for Covid-19 hotspots
Ramaphosa declared Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town metropolitan municipalities as Covid-19 hotspots.
The West Coast, Overberg and Cape Winelands district municipalities in the Western Cape, Chris Hani district in the Eastern Cape and iLembe district in KwaZulu-Natal are also Covid-19 hotspots.
A coronavirus hotspot is where there are five or more Covid-19 infections per 100 000 people, or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace.
The list of hotspot areas will be reviewed every two weeks, depending on the progression of the virus.
He said each hotspot will be assigned a full-time team of experienced personnel, which includes epidemiologists, family practitioners, nurses and public health experts.
Each hotpot will also be linked to testing services, isolation facilities, quarantine facilities, treatment, hospital beds and contact tracing.
“We are particularly concerned about the situation in the City of Cape Town and in the Western Cape generally, which now has more than half the total infections in the country,” Ramaphosa said. “We are attending to this as a matter of urgency.”
9. Level 3 will see no limit on exercise, the sale of alcohol permitted, and most economic activity returning
There will no longer be a limit on outdoor exercise, as long as it does not take place in a group, Ramaphosa said.
He said most sectors of the economy will return to work, and liquor may be sold for home consumption only, under strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours.
“Announcements in this regard will be made once we have concluded discussions with the sector on the various conditions.”
He said the curfew on the movement of people will also be lifted, but tobacco product sales will remain prohibited due to health risks associated with smoking.
10. No church and no social gatherings, but limited domestic air travel
Ramaphosa said all gatherings will remain prohibited, except for funerals with no more than 50 people or meetings in the workplace for work purposes.
Any place open to the public, where cultural, sporting, entertainment, recreational, exhibitional, organisational or similar activities may take place, will remain closed.
Ramaphosa said he is having conversations with religious communities and hopes to find a workable solution for the reopening of faith institutions soon.
Restaurants, bars and taverns, except for delivery or collection of food, and other high risk activities will remain closed.
He said accommodation and domestic air travel will be allowed for business travel only, and dates will soon be announced.
11. Parents will not be forced to send their children to school
Ramaphosa said that schools will be reopening for Grades 7 and 12 learners from 1 June, but he understands that parents are concerned about schools reopening. He said parents will not be forced to send their child to school if they are worried about safety.
Ramaphosa said strict infection control measures and, where necessary, additional water and sanitation infrastructure are being put in place to enable physical distancing, regular hand washing and learner safety at schools.
The school calendar will be revised, and the curriculum trimmed, so that the country can still recover the 2020 school year.
“We are concerned about the growth and development of our children and that an entire generation of learners should not be permanently disadvantaged by this pandemic,” Ramaphosa said.