President Cyril Ramaphosa announced South Africa will be moving to Level 3 lockdown by the end of May, with certain areas most affected by the coronavirus outbreak remaining at Level 4.
In a televised address, Ramaphosa said the next phase of the country’s coronavirus response, as people returned to work, would “in many ways be more difficult than the present one”.
He added the coronavirus would continue to be a global health threat for some time to come, and the fight against it needed to become part of South Africans’ daily lives.
South Africa would have seen 80 000 infections already without lockdown
Without a national lockdown, South Africa would have seen 80 000 infections by now, Ramaphosa said. The national lockdown was, therefore “absolutely necessary” to help the authorities prepare.
He said while South Africa mourned the loss of 219 lives due to the virus, the number of deaths would have been eight times higher without the lockdown.
He said by the time the US had a similar stage of the disease, it had recorded 22 000 deaths and the UK more than 19 000.
Without the lockdown, Ramaphosa added, South Africa’s health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands more people would have died.
Around 181 people per million have been infected by the virus
South Africa’s positivity rate, the percentage of cases identified out of all the tests conducted, had remained low, he said.
Ramaphosa added the number of confirmed infections in South Africa was around 181 people per million of the population.
By contrast, he said, countries such as the US, the UK, Spain, Italy and Singapore have between 2 400 and 4 600 coronavirus cases per million people.
“It is significant that out of the 12 074 confirmed cases in South Africa, we have recorded 4 745 recoveries.”
South Africa now has 25 000 additional beds for quarantine
Ramaphosa said by delaying the spread of the virus, South Africa was able to strengthen the health system’s capacity by increasing the number of beds available for quarantine by 25 000.
He added the lockdown had helped the country to source and produce substantial quantities of personal protective equipment for health workers, vital medical equipment and other supplies.
Ramaphosa thanked the US for a donation of 1 000 ventilators that will assist in treating serious coronavirus patients.
Over 9 million South Africans have been screened, 370 000 tested
In what is the country’s largest and most extensive public health mobilisation, Ramaphosa said fieldworkers have screened more than nine million people, and nearly 370 000 coronavirus tests have been completed.
“It has been made possible by the hard work and dedication of thousands of community workers, nurses, doctors and other health workers,” he added. “They made enormous sacrifices to ensure the success of the lockdown.”
UIF paid out over R11bn to 2 million employees
Ramaphosa said the special Covid-19 relief fund of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) had paid out more than R11 billion to two million employees employed by over 160 000 companies in distress since it was launched.
He added the government’s various funds have supported more than 27 000 small businesses since they were launched.
The government’s R200 billion Covid-19 loan guarantee scheme, which is part of the R500 billion relief package, has also started to process applications from small- and medium-sized businesses on Wednesday.
Around 3 million South Africans applied for Covid-19 grant
Some three million people have applied for the Covid-19 grant of R350 per month for unemployed South Africans who received no other form of assistance from the government, Ramaphosa said.
He added an additional R5 billion have also been paid out to social grant recipients at the beginning of May to assist poor households.
Level 3 lockdown for most of South Africa by end of May
Ramaphosa said a consultation process would start with relevant stakeholders to place most of the country on Level 3 lockdown by the end of May.
Parts of the country with the highest rates of infection will, however, remain on Level 4 lockdown.
Infections were for now mostly concentrated in a few metropolitan municipalities and districts in the country, Ramaphosa said.
“I will repeat what I have said before: If we lift the lockdown too abruptly and too quickly, we risk a rapid and unmanageable surge in infections,” he added.
Level 3 lockdown will see the return of alcohol sales between 08:00 and 12:00 between Mondays and Wednesdays, limited domestic air travel, and all clothing and textiles sales, under draft rules.
Level 4 lockdown regulations will change
The government would in the coming days announce 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.
Some lockdown regulations have been unclear and contradictory
He added some of the lockdown regulations decided upon by the government have been unclear, some have been contradictory and some have been poorly explained.
Ramaphosa said implementation had sometimes been slow and enforcement had 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 is necessary to safeguard the life, the dignity and the interests of the South African people.
“Where we have disappointed, we will continue to make amends. Where we make mistakes, we will continue to correct them.”
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