Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says hotspots could remain under level 4 lockdown rules on 1 June when the rest of the country moves to level 3.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday that all of the country would move to level 3, though he did indicate that consultations this week could open the way for infection hotspots – the country’s economically vital metropolitan areas, and some adjoining districts – being returned to level 4 or even 5 if health conditions made this necessary.

The president identified hotspots as Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City, Cape Town, the West Coast, Overberg and Cape Winelands district municipalities in the Western Cape, Chris Hani District in the Eastern Cape, and the iLembe District in KwaZulu-Natal.

Applying different levels to hotspots was reinforced by Mkhize yesterday in his statement to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

However, Mkhize hinted at the bind government finds itself in when he acknowledged: ‘Hard lockdown is no longer sustainable in its current form and needs to readjust.’

The devastating impact of the lockdown – the economic downturn, poverty and hunger – needed to be mitigated.

He went on: ‘There is little value in stringent measures in those districts where there is low or no infection, but in the districts with high infection rates and active cases, there should be a focus on intensive action.’

‘High-risk areas will be classified as hot spots and these districts will remain at Level 4 with the intensive implementation of screening, testing and restrictions.’

This would be reviewed every two weeks. He anticipated districts across the country being categorised across all levels, from 1 to 5.

Positive cases rose to 24 264, with 43 more deaths bringing the toll to 524.

South African Medical Research Council president and member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) Professor Glenda Gray expressed her gratitude for the support of colleagues in the science and medical fields after the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) cleared her for recent comments about government’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

Gray said: ‘I wish to thank the Board of the SAMRC for having acted with the requisite urgency in its deliberations over this matter, the findings of which I have noted with appreciation. I would like to assure the Board and colleagues at the SAMRC that I remain focused on the important work of the SAMRC.’

The saga cost the government heavily in credibility in the science community and the public.

Zweli Mkhize backed his hard-line Cabinet colleague Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on the ban on cigarettes, saying: ‘The dangers of tobacco are well established. …If people want to sell cigarettes, if people want to smoke, then let’s deal with it on that basis, but let’s not deal with it because we think there is something wrong if we say that tobacco is not good for anybody’s health – it isn’t.’

However, evidently forgetting that level 3 rules for economic activity make no mention of limiting trade to ‘essential services’, Mkhize said it was not even worth debating the matter because it could never be said that tobacco was an essential service.

In other virus-related news

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government suffered its first resignation over the controversy surrounding senior aide Dominic Cummings’ trip across country during coronavirus lockdown when Douglas Ross, a junior minister for Scotland, quit in protest on Tuesday;
  • The University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group, which began developing a COVID-19 vaccine in January, said there was only a 50 percent chance of the vaccine working because cases in the UK were declining so fast there might not be enough people to test it on, said the institute’s director Professor Adrian Hill;
  • Denmark announced it was easing controls with other Nordic countries, allowing cross-border couples to meet again; and
  • Germany said it planned to end its travel warning for trips to 31 European countries from 15 June.

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