Life in South Africa will gradually begin to return to normal from next month, with government steadily easing the COVID-19 lockdown regulations, albeit under stringent stipulations.
From 1 May, government will implement a risk-adjusted strategy aimed at easing the current lockdown restrictions. The decision was taken during a National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) meeting on Thursday.
This was revealed by President Cyril Ramaphosa during an address to the nation on COVID-19, on Thursday evening.
During this period, he said, the country's lockdown would be eased over five levels.
"We have decided on this approach because there is still much that is unknown about the rate and manner of the spread of the virus within our population. The action we take now must, therefore, be measured and incremental."
This approach, the President said, is guided by the advice from scientists who have advised that an abrupt and uncontrolled lifting of restrictions could cause a massive resurgence in infections.
He emphasised that government could not afford to take action that would be later regretted.
The President said: "We must avoid a rushed re-opening that could risk a spread, which would need to be followed by another hard lockdown, as has happened in other countries.
"We have to balance the need to resume economic activity with the imperative to contain the virus and save lives".
Levels of lockdown regulations
Level 5, on which the country is currently under, means that drastic measures are required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives.
Level 4, will see relative activity 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.
1 May - Level 4 unpacked
Level 4 will see borders remain closed to international travel, except for the repatriation of South African nationals and foreign citizens.
However, no travel will be allowed between provinces, except for the transportation of goods and exceptional circumstances such as funerals.
During this period, public transport will continue to operate, with limitations on the number of passengers and stringent hygiene requirements, including that all passengers must wear a face mask.
President Ramaphosa emphasised that during this period, the public is encouraged to stay at home, other than for essential personal movement, doing essential work and work in sectors that are under controlled opening.
The range of goods that may be sold will be extended to incorporate certain additional categories. These will be detailed by the relevant Ministers.
Restrictions will remain in place in certain sectors regardless of the level of alert for as long as the risk of transmission is present. These include bars and shebeens, conference and convention centres, entertainment venues, cinemas, theatres, and concerts.
Concerts, sporting events, and religious, cultural and social gatherings will not be allowed until it is deemed safe for them to continue.
Lockdown has slowed the pandemic
President Ramaphosa said, coupled with measures such as closing the country's borders, the lockdown has slowed the progression of the pandemic.
This week the World Health Organisation commended South Africa's swift interventions to limit the spread of the virus. As of Thursday, the country had 3 953 COVID-19 infections, with 75 confirmed deaths.
The President said while a nation-wide lockdown was probably the most effective means to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.
"Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living. Companies need to be able to produce and to trade, they need to generate revenue and keep their employees in employment," he said.
The pandemic was declared a national disaster on 15 March. This was in an effort to delay the spread of the virus.
"We have sought to avoid a massive surge in infections and an uncontrollable increase in the number of people needing medical care. Our approach has been based on the principles of social distancing, restriction of movement and stringent basic hygiene practices," he said.
By delaying the spread of the virus, the President said, government has had time to prepare the country's health facilities and mobilise essential medical supplies needed to meet the inevitable increase in infections.
"And it is in so doing, that we hope to save tens of thousands of lives. There is clear evidence that the lockdown has been working."
NCCC to determine alert level
To ensure that government's response to the pandemic can be as precise and targeted as possible, President Ramaphosa said there will be a national level and separate levels for each province, district and metro in the country.
The National Coronavirus Command Council is expected to determine the alert level based on an assessment of the infection rate and the capacity of South Africa's health system to provide care to those who need it.
"We have 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," he said.
Ministers to provide details
Ministers are expected to provide details on the classification of industries and how each is affected at each level. Industry bodies will be given an opportunity to consider these details and, should they wish, to make submissions before new regulations are gazetted.
Evidence at government's disposal indicates that 75 percent of confirmed Coronavirus cases are found in just six metro municipalities - Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Cape Town, Buffalo City, EThekwini and Mangaung.
President Ramaphosa said it was, therefore, essential that everything was done to restrict the movement of people and reduce human interaction.
"Ultimately, it is our own actions, as individuals, that will determine how quickly the virus spreads. If we all adhere to instructions and follow public health guidelines, we will keep the virus under control and will not need to reinstate the most drastic restrictions," he said.