President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the country will drop to Level 3 of the nationwide lockdown by the end of May, but some parts of the country with higher infection rates of Covid-19 will remain at Level 4.
Ramaphosa made this announcement during his address to the nation on Wednesday.
He said the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) will begin a process of consultation on proposals for the implementation of the next level.
The president also announced that business activity under Level 4 will be expanded. "In the coming days, we will also be announcing certain changes to Level 4 regulations to expand permitted business activities in the retail space and e-commerce, and reduce restrictions on exercise." Ramaphosa said the government's objective has been to slow down the infection rate.
"For now, infections are mostly concentrated in a few metros and districts in our country. It is important to maintain stringent restrictions in those areas and to restrict travel out of these areas to other parts of the country," he said. He added that, if the government lifts the lockdown too abruptly and too quickly, South Africa risks a rapid and unmanageable surge in transmission.
"Our goal is to steadily increase economic activity while putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of the virus," Ramaphosa said. According to expert data, without the lockdown, South Africa's infection projection would have surged to 80 000 and a death toll eight times higher, he said. The president noted that 219 people had succumbed to the disease, and there were 12 074 confirmed cases as of Wednesday. He said the percentage of cases identified, from the tests conducted, had remained low and stable.
"The level of confirmed infection is around 181 persons per million of the country's population - in stark contrast to other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which have recorded around 2 400 confirmed cases per million of their population."By delaying the spread of the disease, we have been able to strengthen the capacity of our health system and to put in place wide-ranging public health programmes to better manage the inevitable increase in infections," he said.
Ramaphosa's government has been largely criticised for being indecisive and sending contradictory messages with regard to the lockdown regulations.The DA approached the courts after the party failed to get clarity on the criteria used to be eligible for the small business relief fund.
South Africa's advocates had also written letters to Ramaphosa, demanding more transparency on the composition of the NCCC. Ramaphosa conceded that some of the government's actions had been unclear and contradictory, and had invoked anger and opposition. "Implementation has sometimes been slow, and enforcement has sometimes been inconsistent and too harsh. This evening, I want to reaffirm my commitment, and the commitment of the government I lead, to take whatever action necessary to safeguard the life, the dignity and the interest of the people of our country," he said.
He assured South Africans that, where the government had failed, it would seek to correct its mistakes.