The Ministry of Health confirmed yesterday that the entire country would move to a level 3 lockdown on Monday.

But the infection rate will be monitored and hotspots could revert to level 4 or 5.

The statement followed some uncertainty after Health Minister Zweli Mkhize seemed to suggest on Tuesday that some parts of the country could remain at level 4 on Monday.

Mkhize clarified the position in his statement yesterday, saying: ‘If the spread of the infection is not contained despite interventions, government will make a determination on whether to return that specific area (i.e. metropolitan, district, sub district, ward) to Alert Level 4 or 5.’

Positive cases went up by 1 673 to 25 937. Deaths rose by 28 to 552. So far, 13 451 people have recovered. The Western Cape accounts for 60% of national infections, with 16 551 cases (7 660 active cases, 8 504 recoveries and 387 deaths).

Keen attention will focus on the briefing expected this afternoon, led by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on behalf of the government’s controversial National Coronavirus Command Council. She is expected to spell out details of the regulations to apply from Monday.

Much speculation arose over two postponements of this briefing this week, but Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said the postponements were the result merely of the need to amend regulations to take in changes regarding the opening of religious services.

Mthembu assured the media the briefing would get under way as planned at 2pm.

He said: ‘We are now confident that … regulations for all sectors which will be operational under alert Level 3, including the religious sector, will be made available…. These will give a concrete implementation plan for Alert Level 3.’

Mkhize noted yesterday that testing targets were being impeded by ‘constraints beyond our control’. The country was ‘facing a challenge with the global shortage of testing reagents. We understand it’s becoming a challenge to many other countries.’

This was affecting the rate at which laboratories were able to process tests. News24 reported that in the past two days, National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) labs around the country managed to complete only 8 540 tests – compared to 13 896 tests done by private labs.

But both public and private sectors were showing a sharp decline in the number of tests conducted.

The Restaurant Association of South Africa said it was working on an urgent submission to government demanding to know why places of worship would be allowed to open during level 3, and not eateries.

Restaurant owners argued that the introduction of strict new protocols meant their premises would present a low infection risk. They also said they could not survive on collections and deliveries alone.

In other virus-related news

  • The Pan American Health Organization said Latin America had become the centre of the global pandemic, with more daily reported cases of Covid-19 than Europe and the US. Human Rights Watch said the numbers in Venezuela were almost certainly much higher than reported. In terms of deaths per million people, Ecuador (population 17 million) is the worst affected country in South America, with about 3 200 deaths so far;
  • France’s statistics office, Insee, said the economy was set to shrink by roughly 20% in the second quarter as a result of the country’s tough lockdown measures;
  • New Zealand, with only 1 500 reported cases, discharged its last virus patient from hospital on Tuesday. The country reported no new cases for a fifth consecutive day; and
  • The United States posted a toll of less than 700 new coronavirus deaths for the third day in a row, according to Johns Hopkins University. The overall toll is now 98 875, with positive cases at more than 1.68 million. Both are the highest in the world.

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