The cabinet has been weighing up a proposal to ease SA’s national lockdown with a five-stage “alert system” that pegs economic activity to the severity of Covid-19 transmission.
Businesses and employees would know what activities are permitted at each alert stage, and the government could quickly move the entire country or specific provinces or districts between the different alert stages, depending on the epidemic’s trajectory and the risk of infection.
The proposal, outlined in a document obtained by Business Day, was put to cabinet at a special sitting on Monday.
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said on Wednesday, in response to queries about the document: “This is an outdated document. It was prepared as early input into the development of risk-adjusted approach to resuming economic activity that the president has consistently spoken of.
“It has since changed substantially and we would therefore caution against anyone on relying on it for accurate information. The risk-adjusted approach is still being finalised, and will be elaborated on by the president [on Thursday] evening as he indicated.”
SA implemented one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns at midnight on March 26, confining all but essential workers to their homes and bringing large parts of the economy to an abrupt halt. The government is now grappling with how to resume economic activity to minimise the risk of a surge in infection.
President Cyril Ramapahosa announced a R500bn relief package on Tuesday night, but stopped short of spelling out how the government intends to ease SA’s five-week lockdown, slated to end on April 30. The president is expected to provide details of those plans on Thursday.
The proposal contains an analysis that scores various economic sectors on their risk of transmission, the expected impact of continued lockdown, and the value of the sector to the economy. The industries that should return to work first should be those with a low transmission risk, be of critical value to the economy, and be under severe near-term economic stress, according to the proposal.
It defines five alert levels and sets out the sectors permitted to operate, along with restrictions on public transport and movement for each level. Level five, when there is high coronavirus spread, and low health system readiness, triggers the most stringent restrictions, similar to those in place now.
The proposal maintains that alert levels are to be initially determined at provincial level, based on the number of cases. Premiers would be given the authority to determine different alert levels for specific districts, subject to approval by the health minister, enabling greater economic activity in districts with a lower risk of transmission.
This proposal, if accepted, would see takeaway food outlets, clothing stores and government services, such as licensing and permitting, resume under alert level three (moderate virus spread and moderate health system readiness), along with limited domestic rail and air travel. But the risk of transmission would have to drop further, before domestic workers and cleaning services would be allowed back to work.
Liquor sales would be allowed within restricted hours during level 3 lockdown and lower.
The document suggests some sectors should remain shuttered indefinitely, regardless of the level of alert, including restaurants, bars, shebeens, conference centres, entertainment venues (such as cinemas and theatres), sporting events, and religious and cultural gatherings. It proposes gatherings of no more than 10 people be permitted outside the workplace and mandatory cloth masks for passengers on public transport.
Industries are to be encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible; to allow workers aged 60 or older, who cannot work from home, to be on leave with full pay; and suggests employers screen staff daily for symptoms of Covid-19, including temperature checks.