After 142 days in the world’s strictest lockdown, South Africa has allowed the sale of alcohol and cigarettes in a desperate attempt to restart businesses and revive its economy.
During a live televised address, Cyril Ramaphosa moved the country to alert level 2 as part of its risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of covid-19. Level 2 will kick in on midnight on Monday, 17 August 2020. His announcement follows a day of deliberations with, among others, his cabinet, premiers, mayors of metropolitan municipalities and the South African Local Government Association. Earlier in the week, he also met with the national coronavirus command council.
Ramaphosa says government is seeing “signs of hope” in its covid-19 fight. “I address you this evening amid signs of hope. We are making progress… Over the past week, the number of confirmed cases has dropped from an average of 12 000 a day to about 3 000. The recovery rate now stands at 80%.”
Other signs of hope, according to the president, include confirmation that the coronavirus seems to have peaked in several provinces, fewer people need hospital admission and there is a smaller demand for virus tests. Despite the “new phase”, however, Ramaphosa says, “Now is a time for greater vigilance. We must protect the elderly and those with underlying conditions and continue to wear masks and social distancing, and avoid social gatherings.”
The president’s address echoed his sentiments shared days ago during a eulogy delivered at the funeral of struggle veteran John Nkadimeng. During the official funeral he stressed that recovering from the pandemic will be an uphill task for South Africa. “The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact not just on public health, but on livelihoods. Many people have lost their jobs and their incomes. Our already fragile economy has been significantly damaged and the task of recovery will be immense.”
‘Economy is in deep trouble’
Agri SA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede says the lockdown served its intended purpose, but was no longer effective. “Our economy is in deep trouble. Unemployment is rising by the day as businesses are closing down. Our communities are becoming desperate and restless due to rising hunger and poverty. And no lockdown regulations will prevent them from searching for employment opportunities to feed their families.”
Van der Rheede reiterates, however, that most South Africans are concerned about the deadly impact of the covid-19 pandemic. “But our country has done all it could to prevent the further spread of the virus. It will remain with us until a vaccine is found.”
The Bureau for Economic Research (BER) warns of “permanent damage inflicted by the covid-19 crisis, but also in some cases the irrational decisions taken by government.” Also, SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter, reported that the controversial decision to ban alcohol and cigarettes led to a 51% decrease in excise collections in the current financial year, the equivalent of some R18 billion. Of this, cigarette and alcohol sales make up a significant portion.
Meanwhile, thousands of South Africans have turned to social media to share their thoughts about government’s handling of the pandemic. The hashtag #cyrilramaphosa has been trending since lunch time when the presidency confirmed that Ramaphosa would finally address the nation this evening.
— Chef Anele 🏳️🌈 (@anele_booi) August 15, 2020
— Shimmy Shimmy (@RModutwane) August 14, 2020
Dear God, may tonight’s address by our president #cyrilramaphosa release us from the financial and emotional strain we are going through. Amen 🙏🏾
— SHIMZA (@Shimza01) August 15, 2020
The nation also took to social media to react to confirmation that Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, had extended the national state of disaster until 15 September 2020. This allows government to continue implementing some of the covid-19 lockdown regulations.
To put it simple: Your Doctor can extend your prescription for several months but decrease the Dosage and Frequency you have to take the medication in a day.
— 𝙴𝚂𝙴𝚃𝙷𝚄 (@EsethuHasane_) August 15, 2020
The President have no role only Dlamini Zuma can terminate or extend the National State of Disaster, powers derived from the Act itself. We are in trouble, they must just open everything or let us leap to Level 1. pic.twitter.com/F9lrq4Ie9k
— Put South Africans First🇿🇦 (@MbuyaneNgcebo) August 15, 2020
Mzansi is the worst affected country by the covid-19 pandemic in Africa, having reported 583 653 confirmed cases. South Africa has currently 105 000 active cases, according to Ramaphosa. The World Health Organisations warns that Africa will continue to see new coronavirus cases as countries, including South Africa, begin to reopen lockdown-devastated economies. However, they do not believe that increases will be exponential, says the head of the WHO’s African branch, Matshidiso Moeti.