President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during an address on Sunday, the 28th of February that the lockdown restrictions have been eased from level 3 to level 1 with effect from that evening. He said easing of the regulations would mean that the hours of the curfew will now be from 12 midnight to 4am. He said gatherings will be permitted, subject to limitations on size, adherence to social distancing and other health protocols. According to the president these include religious, social, political and cultural gatherings.
“The maximum number of people allowed at any gathering is 100 people indoors or 250 people outdoors, Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used,” he announced.
“Night vigils or other gatherings before or after funerals are still not permitted. Nightclubs will remain closed. The sale of alcohol will be permitted, according to normal licence provisions. However, no alcohol may be sold during the hours of curfew. The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence,” the president added.
Ramaphosa also announced that the 33 land border posts that have been closed throughout this period will remain closed and that the other 20 will remain open. He said only five airports; OR Tambo, Cape Town, King Shaka, Kruger Mpumalanga and Lanseria airports will be open for international travel with standard infection control measures.
Ramaphosa announced that the cabinet took the decision because the country has now emerged from the second wave. He said new infections, admissions to hospital and deaths have fallen significantly and they continue to decline steadily.
“In the week that has just passed, the country recorded just under 10,000 new infections. A month ago, in the last week of January, the country recorded over 40,000 new cases. And a month before that, in the last week of December, the country recorded close to 90,000 new cases,” said the president.
“This dramatic decline in cases over eight weeks is due to a combination of the public health measures introduced, changes in behaviour and accumulating immunity in those who became infected in our communities. We were able to emerge from the second wave because most people adhered to the tighter restrictions and observed the basic health protocols, including wearing masks in public and social distancing,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the measures which were put in place in December were necessary to contain infections and prevent our health facilities from being overwhelmed and to save lives. He explained that the measures had to be undertaken even though they placed restrictions on the daily lives of everyone in the country and caused great inconvenience to many.
“And while we made every effort to keep the economy open, we also knew that there were parts of the economy that would be affected and that wouldn’t be able to operate fully. Our approach has always been that such restrictions should not remain in place longer than is absolutely necessary to contain the disease. Due to the decline in infections, the country can now ease some of the restrictions on movement and activity. Once again, we do so cautiously,” he said.
However, the president warned South Africans not to let their guard down even when these restrictions have been eased. He said the few remaining restrictions under Alert Level 1 are meant to maintain low levels of infections and prevent super-spreading events. Ramaphosa also emphasized the need to follow the lockdown protocols, putting more emphasis on social distancing and said it is even more critical.
“Wearing a mask and avoiding crowds is even more important. And it is now even more important that we all download the COVID Alert SA mobile app onto our cellphones. Nearly two million South Africans are already using the COVID Alert SA mobile app to be notified if they are exposed to the virus,” he said.