Officials push for lockdown level 2 this week: report

The Forum of South African Directors-General (Fosad) has recommended to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) that South Africa be moved to lockdown level 2 as early as this week.

Citing sources who attended the forum meeting where the resolution was made, TimesLive reports said that the recommendation would have been presented at the NCCC meeting held on Tuesday. The council would have to adopt the recommendation, and cabinet would have to approve it before it could be implemented.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday that his team is making recommendations to the council around the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Dr Mkhize told the SABC that the government has recorded a downward trend in coronavirus cases across all of South Africa’s provinces, and will present these findings to president Cyril Ramaphosa this week.

“We are preparing submissions. We will need to make certain restrictions around easing restrictions and the NCCC will have to take into account a lot of issues. Out of that, the president will provide guidance around what we are able to do.”

Mkhize added that the president’s guidance will be based on scientific evidence, trends in coronavirus cases, as well as presentations from a variety of sectors.

Covid-19 cases in the country have declined from a peak of around 15,000 daily infections, to 2,511 on Tuesday evening, with a big decline in active cases.

Lockdown levels revised

This latest push for lockdown level 2 follows the revision of South Africa’s lockdown level definitions last week, as well as a push from provincial governments to have lockdown levels and restrictions handled at a more granular level.

Mkhize published the criteria that will guide the determination of alert levels in the Government Gazette on Friday 7 August. The revised definitions determine the lockdown level on broad descriptions of Covid-19 spread, and health system readiness.

The levels are as follows:

  • Alert Level 1 – indicates a low Covid-19 spread with a high health system readiness;
  • Alert Level 2 – indicates a moderate Covid-19 spread with a high health system readiness;
  • Alert Level 3 – indicates a moderate Covid-19 spread with a moderate health system readiness;
  • Alert Level 4 – indicates a moderate to a high Covid-19 spread with a low to moderate health system readiness;
  • Alert Level 5 – indicates a high Covid-19 spread with a low health system readiness.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde has appealed to national government to allow for lighter lockdown restrictions in the province, as businesses and jobs come under pressure. Winde argues that relevant Covid-19 data shows that the province is past its peak, and thus cannot be held under the same restrictions as other provinces that are still seeing rising numbers.

“In the Western Cape, we have seen a steady and sustained decline in the number of hospitalisations, with current numbers sitting below 1,200, the lowest we have seen since June. Coupled with this, we have seen a greater percentage of tests come back negative, declining infections among healthcare workers and a decline in the number of daily deaths,” Winde said.

“The Western Cape has passed its peak and currently has adequate platform capacity, to the extent that the MSF field hospital in Khayelitsha is in the process of closing and we will soon be considering whether all our field hospitals need to remain open.

“We urge the Ministerial Advisory Committee to consider all of this information when making their recommendations.”

The Western Cape is not alone in its appeal, with other hard-hit provinces – such as Gauteng and the Eastern Cape – pointing to promising recoveries and decreasing infection numbers.

Eastern Cape premier, Oscar Mabuyane said on Tuesday that the province’s Covid-19 “nightmare” is coming to an end, and that there were promising signs of recovery in the province.

And while Gauteng’s statistical modelling predicts a possible spike in infections in September, data coming out of the province shows the opposite, with numbers pointing to recovery.

Other pressures

Government is also facing immense pressure to reduce lockdown restrictions from several court challenges – particularly around the ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco – as well as the macroeconomic landscape – most notably job losses.

Stats SA has delayed the release of its Quarterly Labour Force Survey data which was due to be released this week. Winde said that it is understood that the job figures will present a picture of the economic hardship wrought by the lockdown between April and June.

“Statistical indicators previously released by Stats SA have shown the drastic impact of the lockdown on the food and beverage industry. The closure of our borders and the initial ban on local travel has also had a significant impact on the tourism industry.

“Manufacturing data released this week shows a 16.3% decline in manufacturing in June when compared to June 2019. This is in addition to the 49.3% decline recorded in April and the 32.4% decline in May,” he said.

Meanwhile, a group of private citizens have applied to the Constitutional Court for direct access to argue against the county’s ongoing prohibition on the sale of tobacco products – making it the third such case around the issue.

Cooperative governance and  traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is facing a challenge by the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) on the ban of tobacco sales, while British American Tobacco SA (Batsa) is awaiting the ruling in its case against government.

Level 2?

At this stage it is unclear what level 2 lockdown would entail – however a few major sticking points still stand with the current lockdown restrictions.

These are the things that are still currently prohibited under lockdown level 3:

  • Tobacco sales;
  • Alcohol sales;
  • No social visits (friends and family);
  • Home-sharing (Airbnb);
  • Domestic air travel;
  • Inter-provincial travel for leisure purposes;
  • Attending sporting events;
  • Gyms and health clubs.

A curfew is also still in place between 22h00 and 04h00, which could be revised or removed under lockdown level 2, and schools are still following a staggered return to normal classes.

Read: Mkhize hints at easing of lockdown restrictions – but warns of a ‘second wave’

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Officials push for lockdown level 2 this week: report