The South African Government has explained that as much as 40% of SA workers could be allowed to get back to work under restrictions to the lockdown next month, though everything depends on keeping virus transmission as low as possible.
The lockdown in its current form will end from 1 May, with the country heading to level 4.
Dlamini-Zuma, who spoke first, said that if the virus started speeding up too much, then the country would be heading back to the current level, level 5, very quickly.
“If the numbers go up, we go back to level 5. If they go down, we may go to level 3.”
Dlamini-Zuma said that the lockdown in its current form would remain largely unchanged, with just a few more businesses allowed to operate.
Patel, who took to the podium after her, said she had set out the overall framework of how people would be returning to work (which you can read more about below).
He said the new alert system would be used along with an industrial classification system and new public health measures.
“The purpose of the new approach is to calibrate the level of risk with levels of economic activities. We want to open as much as possible depending on risk.”
He said four factors were relevant to opening a sector, the first being the risk of spread.
The second would be the expected impact of continued lockdown on the sector.
Third was each sector’s GDP contribution and the economic linkage of each sector to the broader economy.
The promotion of community wellbeing was the fourth factor.
“It’s not everybody back to work on the same day. It will be phased in.”
He called on all people to do their part to bring the risk levels down.
“We can all play a role in doing so.”
Larger companies would help to test workers for Covid-19 infection, which would feed into national data to hopefully lower the overall estimation of risk nationally.
“We want to enable workplaces themselves to get ready for Covid. We need to brace ourselves that the virus is still going to be active for the next six to eight months. The workplaces themselves need to be changed.”
On May 1, international Labour Day, more retail would be opened.
“The virus doesn’t move. People move.
“In moving from level 5 to level 4, if we move too fast we risk more people getting infected. If we move too slow, we risk parts of the economy being damaged too much.”
He said the proposal to sectors had followed discussions with business and labour, as well as more general comments.
Patel said there were already many sectors currently being allowed under level 5, and they would continue.
“We will be adding to that list.”
He estimated that about 1.5 million more South Africans would be allowed to leave their homes to go back to work from May 1.
“More than four out of 10 workers will be back at work in phased ways,” he said, adding that education was also being included.
Patel said the focus would be on primary sectors initially.
“We can stress test the system, see what works and doesn’t, and pilot the new system.”
Agriculture, forestry and fishing would reopen as entirely as a sector, with the required social distancing and sanitation measures.
Manufacturing would be reopened, but not to 100% at first. It would be progressively reopened. He said only 20% of all manufacturing workers would resume work, but some sections of the sector would start with more than 20%, including children’s clothing, winter clothing and bedding; computers and mobile phones; cars and car components; construction and the raw materials involved; “and of course stationery requirements”.
There would be some additional reopening of retail.
“We recognise that shops are a great vector of transmission. We want to appeal that visits to shops be kept short and as infrequent as possible.”
The categories to be expanded included children’s clothing, tobacco products, heaters and ICT equipment (computers, mobile phones, home office equipment).
However, alcohol sales would still be disallowed under level 4.
For mining, a new addition would be for those working in open-cast mining to be returned to 50% and then to 100%.
Professional services would be resumed in certain key areas, including in recycling and call centres.
Construction would have several expanded activities.
Restaurants and takeaways would be opened for delivery only, subject to curfew times.
“The food goes to the customer. No one will go to the restaurant to sit down or to fetch the food.”
Patel said this would be an opportunity to create a food takeaway network in the townships too.
The minister called on South Africans to support local industries and locally made products.
Detailed documents would be disseminated to the public through the media over the weekend so that people could be more informed, and for people to give their feedback and helpful suggestions.
Over the course of the week, once feedback had been considered, the regulations for level 4 would then be gazetted.
What NDZ explained
Dlamini-Zuma had called on South Africans to continue to observe the precautions to avoid overwhelming the health service with people needing treatment for Covid-19.
“It’s all in our hands. We can only ease the lockdown if we all play our part.”
The minister recognised that the virus had exposed the country’s inequalities and vulnerability, which she said was also a legacy of apartheid spatial planning.
She explained that interprovincial would still not be allowed except for special circumstances, such as returning to a job or educational institution, or going to a funeral.
In a slide, she showed that most of South Africa was still not showing high numbers, which was why interprovincial travel would be limited.
“We don’t want the whole country to turn red.”
She said the orange parts were second worst, followed by yellow and then blue. If the country could be turned blue in its entirety, then life could be allowed to largely go back to normal, at level 1.
The challenge was that the places where the map was red was where most people lived and where most economic activity occurred.
Visiting friends, neighbours and relatives at their homes would still not be allowed.
“Exercise will be allowed under very strict conditions. Organised sport, gyms, walking or jogging are not allowed.”
Any organised exercise activity would still be excluded, however, and recreational facilities would still be closed.
Dlamini-Zuma said that in future certain parts of the country would be on one level, with others on different levels, but for now everyone was going to level 4.
She said that there would be a curfew for people who would now be allowed to work. “When you go to work, the sanitisers must be there. At home, wash with soap. When you enter transport, you must sanitise.”
The minister said it would be mandatory for people to wear a cloth mask if they set foot outside their homes. A scarf or other item would also be acceptable.
“You have to have your nose and mask covered in public.”
She explained that she had taken off her mask while delivering her message because the SABC had not been able to hear her.
“Social distancing will remain critical. If a business cannot observe all the health protocols, it should not open.”
All gatherings, including religious ones, would still not be allowed, except for funerals.
The minister of transport would announce changes to transport allowances in each of the levels. E-hailing would be allowed at the same level as level 5, along with the limits to private transport.
“Three in a car, not more. A taxi not more than 70%.”
With the reopening of the economy, industries were evaluated according to the risk of transmission in each sector, as well as the risk to each sector of staying closed. “We also looked at each sector according to the value they bring to the economy. We also looked at the promotion of community wellbeing and the lives of the vulnerable.”
People would have to be allowed to buy things like clothing and blankets for winter, as well as blankets.
“If you get flu and coronavirus, it’s not good news.”
She then presented a brief summary of how the alert levels could be understood.
“If we keep to all the things we are meant to do, we might stay on level 4 and could even go to level 3. We want to get to level 1, where there’s low spread and high readiness”.
“We need to increase our testing. It’s better that the proportion of those who are tested don’t test positive too much.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and South Africa’s own experts, people should work from home if they could.
Those aged 60 or above would need to work from home as much as possible, and not go out, though she said they were only “suggesting” this.
She said younger people were more likely not to be badly affected by the virus, or even to show symptoms at all. People with comorbidities (other health conditions) would also need to take extra care as they are at a higher risk of dying.
The use of biometric scanners would have to be discontinued if the scanners were not carefully disinfected before each use.
Dlamini-Zuma spoke about ongoing concerns about behaviour at funerals that were heightening the risk of viral spread. People were using the same shovels, spoons and engaging in other practices that would need to be changed.
“If we wash hands in one basin, we may be putting coronavirus in the basin, and other people may get it.”
As for the conditions for businesses to get back to work, she presented a slide that said: “In addition to generally applicable health and safety protocols, each sector must agree upon a Covid-19 prevention and mitigation plan, approved by the minister of health and any other minister relevant to the sector.”
She said touching was now a thing of the past.
“Individual businesses or workplaces must have Covid-19 risk assessments and plans in place, and must conduct worker education on Covid-19 and protection measures:
- Identification and protection of vulnerable employees
- Safe transport of employees
- Screening of employees on entering the workplace
- Prevention of viral spread in the workplace
- Hand sanitisers and face masks
- Cleaning of surfaces and shared equipment
- Good ventilation
- Shift arrangements and canteen controls
- Managing sick employees
“Monitoring systems must be in place to (1) ensure compliance with safety protocols and (2) identify infections among employees.”
She said mass testing should be carried out for workplaces of more than 500 workers.
“We will be putting out regulations,” she said, adding that sectors would be allowed to give their input.