The nationwide lockdown implemented by government to contain COVID-19 has delayed the spread of the virus and given government time to prepare for the pandemic.
"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. There is clear evidence that the lockdown has been working," President Cyril Ramaphosa said.
Addressing the nation on Thursday evening, the President said while a nationwide lockdown is probably the most effective means to contain the spread of the coronavirus, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.
Government has therefore resolved to gradually lift the restrictions on economic activity, guided by the best available scientific evidence.
"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," the President said.
Government has developed a five level approach determining the measures that should be in place based on the direction of the pandemic in the 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 President said.
Government has 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 are expected to provide a detailed briefing on the classification of industries and how each is affected at each level.
The National Coronavirus Command Council met earlier on Thursday and determined that the national Coronavirus alert level will be lowered from level 5 to level 4 with effect from Friday, 1 May 2020.
Call to wear masks
The President encouraged South Africans to adhere to instructions and follow public health guidelines to keep the virus under control.
"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," he said.
Evidence shows 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," he said.
South Africans must maintain hygiene practises such as washing 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," the President said.
Government is committed to ensuring that nurses, doctors, scientists and the community screening field workers have all the resources they need - including adequate personal protection equipment and other recognition - to undertake the work that is being asked of them.