Johannesburg: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a five-phase plan to gradually ease the 35-day lockdown imposed to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the country.
The president said that the country is currently on phase 5 that involves drastic measures to contain the spread of the disease.
The country is under a nationwide lockdown since March 27. The strict measures in place have caused extreme economic crises, including huge job losses, and business closures.
According to the Johns Hopkins University data, there are 4,220 COVID-19 infections in the country with 79 deaths.
From May 1, the lockdown will move to level 4 where some businesses will be allowed to resume operations under strict conditions.
Borders will still remain closed and only travel to repatriate South African citizens from abroad or take foreigners in South Africa back to their home countries will be permitted.
At level 3, there will be restrictions on many activities, including at workplaces and social gatherings to address the high risk of transmission.
Level 2 will allow some leisure and social activities with stringent physical distancing and other requirements to prevent a resurgence of the virus.
Under level 1, normal activity can resume with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times.
Giving details of the five-phase approach on Thursday, Ramaphosa said that the threat level will be distinguished at the national, provincial, district and metropolitan level.
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,” he said.
The president said that after April 30, the country will implement a risk adjusted strategy to take a deliberate and cautious approach to ease the lockdown restrictions.
The strategy we take now must be measured and incremental. We cannot take action today that we deeply regret tomorrow.
We have to balance the need to resume economic activity with the need to save lives,” he said.
While a nationwide lockdown is probably the best means to contain the virus, it cannot be sustained indefinitely. Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living. Companies need to generate revenue, the president said.
The president said that the lockdown gave them the time to prepare health facilities and mobilise some of the essential medical supplies needed to meet the increase in infections.
“And it is in doing so, that we hope to save tens of thousands of lives, Ramaphosa said.
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, he said.
Ramaphosa said the five-level approach was guided by scientists who had recommended that a rushed reopening of the economy could result in a massive resurgence in infections.
One of the more significant changes allowed under level 4 is that the ban on selling of cigarettes during the period will be lifted.
There have been opposition from public and economists on the prohibition on sale of cigarettes and liquor, citing huge losses in revenue to the government from excise duties on these items at a time when it is needed most for relief packages.
However, the restrictions on alcohol would remain in place.