President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in a televised address last night that all of South Africa will move to level 3 on 1 June – with alcohol sales allowed, but not cigarettes – but that hotspot areas could be moved back to level 4 or 5 if judged necessary.
Hotspot metros were Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekhuruleni, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town. Some other districts were also considered hotspots.
‘Should it be necessary, any part of the country could be returned to alert levels 4 or 5 if the spread of infection is not contained despite our interventions and there is a risk of our health facilities being overwhelmed,’ he said.
Up to eight million people would be returning to work, placing a huge responsibility on South Africans and businesses to sustain basic public health measures such as washing hands, wearing masks and sanitising work spaces. Staggered working hours were being investigated to reduce the load on public transport and crowding at work.
‘Appropriate restart and phasing in arrangements will need to be put in place for every workplace,’ he said.
High risk activities would remain closed, including restaurants, bars and taverns, accommodation and domestic air travel, conferences, events, entertainment and sporting events, and beauty and hair care.
Wholesale and retail trade will be fully open, with the government abandoning some of the sillier restrictions of recent weeks.
People may exercise at any time, but not in groups.
Ramaphosa confirmed that grade 7 and 12 children would go back to school. No parents would be forced to send their children back to school. Universities would be limited to allowing a third of students to return to campuses.
Significantly, Ramaphosa did not once refer to the controversial National Coronavirus Command Council, the legal basis of which has been cast in doubt and is the subject of legal challenge.
For a second time since the lockdown began, Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has won the fight in government to sustain the widely criticised cigarette ban. Surveys have shown illegal cigarette sales have continued throughout, emboldening criminal syndicates at a cost to the government of hundreds of millions of rands a month.
Ramaphosa said there were now ‘just over’ 11 000 active cases in the country. Of these, 842 patients were in hospital, of whom 128 were in intensive care. Deaths have risen to 429.
Another top scientist and member of Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 has come out in support of Professor Glenda Gray, accusing the government of not consulting the country’s top scientists on lockdown regulations, News24 reports.
Professor François Venter said it was unclear who was advising the government on the regulations. The report said Venter was one of 51 academics who publicly pledged their support to Gray on Saturday after the health department’s acting director general, Dr Anban Pillay, formally requested the South African Medical Research Council, of which Gray is CEO and president, to investigate her comments to News24.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has expressed deep concern about the pandemic, and the effect of the lockdown on the economy as well as the administration of justice. In an interview with News24, he said: ‘Even a constitutionalist function[ing] state of emergency is subject to constitutional review. The courts have a final say on the validity or otherwise on measures taken in a state of emergency. Our constitutional rights are crucial and there can never be a situation [where] any of us are not subject to constitutional review.
‘I encourage every citizen who believes his or her rights have been infringed to, without hesitation, approach our courts, so the courts – that are constitutionally ordained to look into the constitutionality of acts or conduct of anyone – can review the matter and decide whether or not citizens have been wronged or citizens have been acting under an incorrect understanding of what the position is,’ he said.
Crime was a particular concern.
He said: ‘I am worried about the impact of our inability to function as normal on the economy. I am worried about our inability to function normally and the impact thereof on crime. What will happen to the multitudes who will not have a source of income? Isn’t it likely to contribute to the already more concerning level of crime that we had to contend with so far as a society?’
Police minister Bheki Cele has once again demonstrated his woeful lack of insight – this time, regarding the law he is meant to enforce. He claimed last week that police could insist on proof of the time and place of purchase of cigarettes in the possession of anyone smoking in public. As legal experts have pointed out, he is quite wrong. There is no such provision in law.