By Ashok Ramsarup :: President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that South Africa will be heading to lockdown level one of the deadly coronavirus pandemic from Sunday.
Speaking during a live broadcast in the administrative capital Tshwane, President Ramaphosa lauded South Africans in helping to flatten the curve in the fight against the Covid-19. In the past six months, more than 15 000 South Africans died from the deadly disease and more than 650 000 were diagnosed with the virus.
He said: “The pandemic has affected the country’s economy. Even as restrictions have eased last month with our move to alert level 2, there has been a gradual, but steady, decline in new infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
“We have succeeded in flattening the curve during the worst phase of this epidemic while protecting the capacity of the country’s health system.
“South Africans have praised for this achievement and for the thousands of lives that have been saved through their collective actions,” said Ramaphosa.
He went further by stating that this achievement was recognised by the World Health Organisation, in the fight against the pandemic. Ramaphosa paid tribute to the Director General of the World Health Organisation in Geneva as well as the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
But, Ramaphosa cautioned that although the country was making a remarkable progress, a number of people were still getting infected and some were losing their lives. He pointed out the country’s great challenge was a new surge in infections. He commented that several several countries around the world were hit by a ‘second wave’ after some restrictions on economic and social activity had been lifted.
Following consultations with provincial and local government representatives, and acting on the advice of scientists and engagements with various stakeholders, Ramaphosa said:
“Cabinet has decided that the country should move to alert Level 1. In the process, it’s time to remove some of the remaining restrictions on economic and social activity as it is reasonably safe to do.
“The latest move recognises that levels of infection are relatively low and that there is sufficient capacity in the health system to manage the current need,” he said .
He made it clear that social, religious, political and other gatherings would be permitted, as long as the number of people do not exceed 50% of the normal capacity of a venue, up to a maximum of 250 people for indoor gatherings and 500 people for outdoor gatherings. Health protocols, including washing or sanitising of hands, social distancing and mask-wearing, will be strictly observed.
Ramaphosa also announced that a nationwide survey would be carried out to assess the actual levels of infection within society. The survey entitled Seroprevalence Survey – uses antibody tests to establish if a person had been exposed to the coronavirus. The study would allow scientists to estimate the extent of asymptomatic infections and immunity within the population as well as better understand the transmission patterns of the virus.
He added that travel may be restricted to and from certain countries that have high infection rates. A list of countries will be published based on the latest scientific data. International travellers will be allowed through the three main airports: King Shaka, OR Tambo and Cape Town INternational Airports respectively and they will have to provide COVID-19 documents.
Ashok Ramsarup is award-winning senior journalist of South Africa