After 48 days on lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on the country’s ongoing measures to manage the spread of the coronavirus with plans to gradually re-open the economy moving to level 3.
Consultations will begin in coming days about moving most of country to disease alert level 3 by the end of the month from level 4, and allow a number of additional industries to resume operations, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Wednesday in a televised address to the nation.
Level 4 restrictions will remain in force in areas where infection rates are highest, which include some metropolitan municipalities.
Certain restrictions would be changed on level 4 restrictions in any event, particularly for retail activities, e-commerce and exercise.
This would be done through further consultation and would be announced in coming days.
The president went on to discuss the fact that the virus would remain a threat in South Africa and all countries for the foreseeable future, and the only way to control it was if people continued to adjust their behaviour and take the necessary precautions.
He thanked South African for the sacrifices they had made thus far.
“I would like to say that despite its severity, the lockdown was absolutely necessary.”
He said the number of infections would have soared, health services would have been overwhelmed and thousands of South Africans would have died.
Ramaphosa’s address was scheduled following a number of meetings of Cabinet and the National Coronavirus Command Council.
South Africans had been calling on the president to address them amid talks the country may be moving to level 3 lockdown, at least in some areas.
The last time Ramaphosa’s address was televised was on Thursday, 23 April – 20 days ago when he announced the country’s lockdown transition to level 4 starting on 1 May.
Jobs at Risk
Business for South Africa, a group of business organizations, had warned that 4 millions jobs will be placed at risk and the economy could contract 16% this year if the easing of the rules isn’t accelerated.
“We must acknowledge that as we have confronted this unprecedented challenge, there may have been times when we have fallen short of your expectations,” Ramaphosa said.
The government initially imposed a 21-day lockdown on March 27 to curb the spread of the virus, later extending it by two weeks. Enforced by the police and military, it only allowed people to leave their homes to buy food, collect welfare grants and seek medical care — unless they provided essential services.
While the severity of the lockdown was adjusted from the maximum level 5 to level 4 on May 1, allowing commerce to resume, many businesses remain partially or completely shut.
“Despite its duration and its severity, the lockdown that we’ve imposed was absolutely necessary,” Ramaphosa said. “Without the lockdown, the number of coronavirus infections would have soared uncontrollably. Our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands of South African would have died.”
While South Africa’s 12,074 confirmed coronavirus infections and 219 fatalities are low compared with epicenters such as the U.S., Spain and Italy, the number of cases has increased over recent weeks as testing and screening rose. The government expects the disease to peak in August or September.
The administration has been weighing concerns about a surge in cases against worries about a spiraling unemployment rate, which stood at 29% before the virus hit, and a spike in the number of people seeking food aid.
Ramaphosa last month announced a 500 billion-rand ($27 billion) support package aimed at reigniting growth and supporting those worst affected by the lockdown. The government will soon start the next phase of its economic response to the crisis by outlining a clear strategy for recovery and the Cabinet will announce the outcome of these discussions once it’s completed, he said on Wednesday.