On the same day the country recorded its biggest spike in the number of positive Covid-19 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown would be eased from 1 May.
On Thursday night, Ramaphosa announced that government would follow a five-level phased approach.
Ramaphosa said, following the advice of scientists, it was decided on the five-level approach because there was still much that was unknown about the rate and manner of the spread of the virus.
Currently, the country is on Level 5, the most drastic required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives. On the next level, which he said would be introduced next Friday, some activity will be allowed to resume, subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.
Opposition parties mostly came out in support of Ramaphosa’s announcement, albeit with some reservations and concerns.
DA welcomes announcement, but wants more transparency on details
The DA said it welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement to control the spread of the novel coronavirus going forward by adopting what the party had previously called a “smart lockdown” model, and pledged its support.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said this phased, risk-adjusted model is “critical to protecting precious jobs and ensuring that the livelihood of millions of South Africans is saved”.
“The DA has called for precisely this approach in our smart lockdown plan, released 10 days ago. It is encouraging that we are able to cooperate in this way, and to know that we are on the same page as we face this daunting challenge,” Steenhuisen said.
The DA said it would await further details of how the model would affect the various sectors of our economy and society before making further comments.
“What is crucial is that any such a phased lifting of lockdown restrictions [be] accompanied by both a massive increase in testing, tracing and tracking, and the publishing of detailed and reliable data on a range of Covid-19 information, which must include localised breakdowns of testing data, infection and mortality data and healthcare data such as ICU beds, ventilator availability and PPE (personal protective equipment) stocks.”
According to the DA, without such transparent data in the public domain, it is impossible to know when, where and to what extent restrictions on activities are necessary.
“This regular data release must cover all aspects of the economic stimulus plan, including lists of businesses applying for and receiving SMME relief, employees receiving TERS relief, details of UIF payments and details of both Covid grant payments and unemployment grant payments.”
The party welcomed the requirement for the wearing of face masks on public transport and the call for them to be worn in all public areas and urged the government to assist in supplying these to South Africans. The DA also called on stores selling non-essential items to be allowed to open immediately for purposes of fulfilling delivery orders.
In addition, it asked for parliamentary oversight into the deployment of 73,000 additional South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members to guard against overreach and abuse of power. Finally, the party called on the government to “urgently fix the underlying structural defects in our economy” – including the reform of state-owned enterprises, labour legislation reform and energy sector reform. “If we don’t walk away from proposed destructive policies such as expropriation without compensation, the NHI (National Health Insurance) and asset prescription, we will not survive this crisis with our economy intact,” Steenhuisen said.
EFF: ‘The government should not bend at the altar of capitalist greed’
The EFF said it noted government’s announcement, but would only make substantial remarks once the “substantial issues” are announced by ministers in the coming weeks.
EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo said in a statement: “We strongly caution against the reopening of the economy that is not based on a sound scientific and epidemiological basis.
“When the minister of health called in experts to address the nation on the spread of the virus, they strongly advised against reopening the economy when daily infections are still above 45. In the past 24 hours, South Africa has witnessed more than 300 daily cases and we, therefore, do not understand the reasons for premature reopening, which ignores the scientific and logical advice of experts.”
The EFF strongly cautioned against the “premature reopening of economic sectors” that require multitudes of employees to be in contact with one another or be in the same place “because this will certainly expose them to higher risks of contracting the virus”.
“The government should not bend at the altar of capitalist greed because the measures put in place thus far will be reversed in a short period of time,” Pambo said.
“Once again, the EFF is concerned that in all these announcements, the president is not providing any guidance on what should happen to the school and academic calendar at primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels. Without premature reopening of schools, colleges, universities of technology, and universities, the government must present a clear and well-funded plan on how South Africa should complete the 2020 school and academic year without exposing learners and students to the danger of Covid-19.”
The EFF called for a comprehensive and implementable education plan.
“We are aware that individual institutions of higher learning, notably Wits University, the University of Johannesburg, and the University of Cape Town are putting in place mechanisms to continue with the academic year using communications technology.
“We demand that government should intervene to assist all universities of technology and universities to build immediate capacities to reach and assess students under lockdown.”
The EFF also strongly cautioned that the government should not subject people to the danger of Covid-19.
“We call on all our people to cooperate with the members of the [SANDF] who are deployed to provide critical services in our communities. We believe that the provision of water and healthcare services should not be a temporary measure but institutionalised in a manner that will continue to provide these basic services even after the containment of Covid-19,” Pambo added.
Freedom Front (FF) Plus: ‘Important to find a balance’
FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said the risk-adjusted approach was the right thing to do, “but it is now of the utmost importance to specify the details regarding Level 4 as thoroughly and quickly as possible”.
“It is imperative to find a sensible balance between the spread of the virus and unlocking the economy. What is allowable and what not, must be very clearly communicated,” Groenewald said.
“The current approach is nonetheless in line with the recommendations that the FF Plus submitted to the president. This is the only acceptable course of action to lift the lockdown. It is important to continually base the relaxing of the lockdown regulations on risks to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“In the FF Plus’s view, the devil is in the detail. The success of the gradual lifting of the lockdown period to revive the economy will largely depend on when, where and which sectors will be allowed to reopen,” Groenewald said.
“It remains of the utmost importance for the FF Plus that smaller enterprises, like sole proprietorships, are granted the opportunity to start operating and generating an income as soon as possible.”
The party said it wanted to see e-commerce and enterprises providing stationery and other forms of trade, where goods can be transported by couriers, be allowed to open under lockdown Level 4.
“The delivery of food from restaurants and fast-food enterprises must also be allowed in Level 4. The risk for infection can be greatly reduced by putting stringent precautionary measures in place and by limiting the number of people working in kitchens.
“This industry’s survival is in jeopardy, but it will be able to recover if it is allowed to start functioning in this way. It will contribute greatly to gradually getting the economy up and running again in an attempt to return to normal,” Groenewald added.
ANC: Governing party serious about protecting people’s lives
The ANC welcomed the phased easing of lockdown measures.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said: “The easing of lockdown measures… will ensure that we all take extreme precautions to limit community transmission and outbreaks, while allowing some economic activity to resume.
“While the ANC is encouraged by the overall response mechanisms that are put in place to ensure adequate healthcare provisions for those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, and further economic and social relief measures developed, we continue to call on our people to observe basic social distancing, washing of hands and avoiding unnecessary exposure to this deadly virus.”
The governing party said Ramaphosa’s announcement demonstrated the commitment and seriousness of the ANC government to protect the lives of ordinary people.
“Through this gradual response approach, our government will continue to identify and evaluate the risks associated with the easing of the lockdown until it is safe to remove all current restrictions.
“The ANC also support government efforts to ramp up rapid testing of all our citizens and use of PPE. We urge all our people to continue following precautions as pronounced by government,” Mabe said.