Covid-19 lockdown: SA President Ramaphosa re-opens the economy

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the media at the Pre-WEF breakfast held this morning at Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, Johannesburg,06/05/2016. Siyasanga Mbambani

MOST South African businesses will be allowed to re-open with effect from June 1, under draft government proposals to revive the economy by de-escalating to level 3 lockdown after a two-month lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.

Under the plan, regulations will continue to prohibit the sale of tobacco, while licensed stores can sell beer, wine and liquor four days a week.

South Africa has 22 583 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 429 people have died from the coronavirus since the country’s first case was confirmed on March 5, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday.

This means that 22 new deaths have been recorded over the past 24 hours. The number of new cases reported in the same period is 1 240.

Ramaphosa said that there are currently around 11 0000 active coronavirus cases in the country.

He stressed the the decision to place the country under stringent level 5 lockdown on March 23 was instrumental in curbing the spead of the virus.

The number of Covid-19 tests conducted to date is over 580 000, well over the number of tests conducted in other African countries, Ramaphosa said.

“Around 20 000 beds have been repurposed for coronavirus patients,” the president said.

He warned that the number of infections in the country is rising steadily, in line with projections, and would continue to do so for some time.

“One third of the cumulative confirmed cases were recorded in the last week alone and we should expect that these numbers will rise,” Ramaphosa said.

Things South Africans cannot do under level 3

The news comes as South Africa’s coronavirus cases are rising by more than 1 000 each day. The death toll is also creeping up, but the president has been left with a near-impossible tightrope to walk. Lockdowns may slow the spread, but they also kill businesses.

Poverty and economic strife pose dangers separate to those of a global pandemic.

Cinemas, bars, and restaurants remain closed, although takeaway services continue unaffected during Level 3.

Public gatherings and visits to see friends and socialise are still off-limits. Inter-provincial travel is also banned, and South Africans can only leave the country under exceptional circumstances.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa has said the “drastic containment measures taken” that had been imposed on the nation had slowed the rate of infection and prevented health facilities from being overwhelmed, although this had caused “great hardship” to many people.

“Tragically some 429 people have lost their lives,” he said.

“There are now just 11,000 active cases in the country,” he said, adding that 842 patients were in hospital and 128 in ICU. He said 27 field hospitals were being built around the country to accommodate an anticipated influx of patients but noted that there was a shortage of diagnostic test kits in the country.

“We have known all along that the lockdown would only delay the virus … not stop it,” he said.

Ramaphosa met leaders of opposition parties on Wednesday.

Two party leaders, who were part of the virtual meeting, said he spoke of being under pressure from the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to open up the economy. Ramaphosa consulted with business, labour, religious leaders and the tourism industry before his address on Sunday.