Gauteng premier David Makhura says that Gauteng, the country’s most economic active province, is set to move to level 3 lockdown in June.
“We are going to level 3 in June, as Gauteng. But Gauteng cannot go to level 3 in a disjointed way. We cannot have one municipality or metro in level 4, and another one in level 3 or another one in level 2. Even the districts are highly integrated. We are going to level 3 together,” Makhura said on Tuesday (19 May).
Makhura was answering questions during a virtual session of the Gauteng provincial legislature.
South Africa is currently at level 4 lockdown. The government is working on South Africa’s new level 3 lockdown rules, after president Cyril Ramphosa proposed that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3.
This would include an expansion of the permitted business activities in the retail space as well as fewer restrictions on exercise.
“However, those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection will remain at level 4. The government has thus prepared a district-based approach to its Covid-19 response, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach,” health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said last week.
The National Coronavirus Command Council, the government body overseeing efforts to contain the virus, would review the restrictions for each district every two weeks, Mkhize added, saying the country was moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Dr Mkhize said that even though the number of coronavirus infections in South Africa is rising at a worrying rate, the country has to get back to work, and government is doing what it can to balance the two issues.
The minister said that South Africa has no choice but to ease the lockdown restrictions, because people need to get back to being economically active.
Government has to balance the risk to health with the need for people to get back to work so they can feed themselves. “People cannot live in their rooms forever,” he said.
“The World Health Organisation says we need to show a drop in infections – but we can’t wait for that. The numbers are still rising, but we don’t have the reserves to allow people to stay home. Because of that, we need to open up while infections are still rising.”
Gauteng has one of the highest rates of infection in the country, making up 14.3% of total Covid-19 infections, second only to the Western Cape, which makes up 61.1% of infections.
The province has recorded 26 deaths to date, which is fourth behind the Western Cape (166), KwaZulu -Natal (45), and the Eastern Cape (39).
Proportionately, Gauteng has a high recovery rate, at 1,657 patients.
Premier Makhura said: “The lockdown has worked in Gauteng – whatever the politics around it, the lockdown has worked. The impact is still severe from a health perspective…it has been severe on the psychology of people. But our healthcare system has not been overwhelmed.”
“We can’t have a lockdown at this level for long – we are working with various sectors; we are preparing to go to level 3, in a responsible way, in a cautious way.”
He said that too many people do not have the means to support their lives. “We don’t have enough resources to provide assistance to those people who would otherwise work.”
“We don’t agree with those who say we must just open the economy any how…we can’t do that, we are taking it in phases,” the premier said.
“We are targeting two geographic and sector targets: one the one hand, going into level 3 we are focusing on the townships, because we are seeing that the suburbs are having more recoveries and fewer active cases. Townships are the ones with the new cases now.”
The other focus, he said, is in the economy – the retail sector and public transport in particular, as this has proved to be where more transmissions occur.
Health Department acting director general Anban Pillay, meanwhile has said that many parts of the country could move to alert level 3 of the lockdown as early as this week.
Speaking to SAfm, Pillay said there is a strong case for the lockdown to remain in place in areas where there are high levels of community transmissions.
“It would be appropriate for us to put in stricter measures against movement and other things to prevent the spread out of those areas,” he said.
At the same time, there are areas in the country with very few coronavirus transmissions – which should not be subjected to strict lockdown regulations.
Asked whether he expects changes to the lockdown level this week, Pillay said they are “hoping that we would have some changes this week and that we would move to lower levels of restrictions in many parts of the country”.
However, we must remain vigilant, especially in areas like the metros with high numbers of community transmissions.
Different levels for different areas
Speaking to SABC, Pillay said they are looking at a differentiated model across the country to allow people to go back to work and conduct other activities.
In areas where there is a high infection rate, they want to restrict movement and interaction between people to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Many parts of South Africa, especially in rural areas, have had a low Covid-19 infection rate. “Those areas can have more normal activities with less restrictions,” he said.
He said they are looking at two key indicators to determine the appropriate alert level for different districts:
- The number of active infections in an area and the trend over time.
- The capacity of the health system to respond to the infections in that area.
The alert level will then decide the economic and social activity which is allowed in the region.