When might South Africa move into Level 3 of lockdown?
There are a myriad of factors that need to be considered, but Level 3 of lockdown may be a little closer than some South Africans think.
This time last week, many South Africans were looking forward to the relaxation of our lockdown rules. Level 4 was perceived as the first step in the right direction, in terms of restarting the economy and restoring certain civil liberties. But the reality of the new regulations – which only wavered slightly from the previous guidelines – left people hoping for a swift upgrade to Level 3.
What are the rules of lockdown Level 3?
Well, the public might not have to wait too long for that. A committee on trade and business revealed on Friday that the transition to the next phase could come relatively soon. There’d be much more to look forward to this time around, too: It’s believed that the following things would change when we get to Level 3.
- Liquor sales during restricted hours would be permitted.
- The reopening of some clothing stores is on the cards.
- Industries such as cement, steel and machinery production can return, and Transnet will step-up its operations.
- Book sales and stores dealing in literature could get the go-ahead.
- Car and textile manufacturers should be allowed back to work in some capacity.
- The laws of exercise – including times and activities – are likely to be amended.
- And, barring another government u-turn, we should be able to buy cigarettes again.
It may be a case of “sooner, rather than later”
These are the comments made by government representatives this weekend; it’s easy to see why they’ve caused a bit of excitement.
“Should the country avoid a sharp increase in the levels of infections with the return to work of large numbers of workers and expanded testing and healthcare facilities, the economy could shift to Level 3 as soon as possible… the country does not need to stay at Level 4 for a specific number of weeks but can move rapidly to a lower level should risks be mitigated.”Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel
So it’s all to play for, and the next few days will be crucial in determining just how long this “shift” could take. Since the beginning of last week, cases have been rising by between 200 – 400 people each day. The death toll is climbing by several people per day. But these figures are not necessarily a cause for concern, given that South Africa is ramping up its testing capacity.
Compared with the global hot-spots of this health crisis, Mzansi’s numbers are exceedingly favourable. The only thing working against this country is that the peak of the illness is expected to arrive in September, which may cause something of a logistical headache for the authorities. It’s likely that, in the near future, South Africa will move between different levels of lockdown – like load shedding stages.
Roadblocks to Level 3 of lockdown
Another cause for concern will be the comments made by the government’s best-known pantomime villain, Bheki Cele. The police minister has made a series of contentious statements since lockdown began, and the booze-banning Cabinet member stirred the pot once more on Saturday. Frustrated with the number of people congregating on beach promenades in the past few days, Cele stated:
“We have had the first day of Level 4, but what we see already is that it won’t be difficult to go back to [Level] 5. The things we have seen today, it’s beginning to edge us [back to Level 5].“Bheki Cele
The stern threat seems to have had its desired impact: Fewer people have been spotted at the seafront since Friday. However, another crisis – humanitarian by nature – could also derail our path to freedom: People waiting for food parcels have inadvertently formed large crowds and queues which make a mockery of social distancing guidelines:
How about Olivenhoutbosch in Centurion pic.twitter.com/MTJyUl3aKO— BUS-X82■GP (@Kabelodmk) May 2, 2020
Resting on a knife-edge
The situation in our townships could make or break the march towards Level 3 restrictions. Although infection rates in our biggest sprawling settlements – like Khayelitsha or Alexandra – haven’t ripped through the regions as first feared, the disease is inside the communities now. A large, sharp rise in cases here could have a severe impact on the rest of South Africa.
It’s perhaps too early to tell at this stage what impact the shift from Level 5 to 4 has had on our collective health. But if the numbers hold steady, like the ones we’ve seen over the past seven days, South Africa will have a fighting chance of taking another big step towards something that resembles normality.
When could South Africa move to Level 3 of lockdown?
It would be very difficult to pin down a date as to when Level 3 could be given the green light. There are some small clues that indicate how the government intends to phase this crisis. Schools are penciled to reopen by June. Opposition political parties are hammering on the door to let more industries and small businesses resume trading at some point in May. We really could be talking weeks, rather than months.
Some countries, including the UK, review their lockdown measures after three weeks. South Africa spent a total of five weeks in Level 5 of lockdown. If a similar time period can be applied to our next potential stage – and the infection rate keeps our curve flat – then we’re looking at the late stages of this month, or early June, for the introduction of Level 3. That’s an optimistic forecast, though.
As we are cautious to stress, this still depends on many factors. The glimmer of hope for many of us is that the government is seemingly willing to get through to the next stage “as soon as possible”. We can all do our bit to speed this process up, by staying at home as much as we can (and observing all social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines).
But for now, it remains a waiting game. And the government’s definition of “rapid” could change at any moment.