South African president optimistic about further easing COVID-19 restrictions

Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday expressed optimism that South Africa would soon advance to level-three restrictions over COVID-19 earlier than previously announced.

The work done by the National Economic Development and Labor Council (NEDLAC) and the government’s continued consultation with other formations and sectors could deliver an earlier advance to level three before the end of May, Ramaphosa said. He was speaking after co-chairing a virtual meeting of the NEDLAC constituencies to assess preparations for the step-down from level four to level three.

At the meeting, constituencies reported on their respective preparations for the step-down to level three of the national lockdown, which will more than double the current number of people who have returned to work. Ramaphosa promised on Wednesday that most of South Africa, except a number of COVID-19 hotspots, will move to level-three lockdown restrictions by the end of May.

The country eased the level-five lockdown, imposed on March 27, to level four on May 1, allowing some businesses to reopen. There have been growing calls for further easing the restrictions to level three, which allows more businesses to reopen.

At Friday’s meeting, Ramaphosa reiterated that the progression to level three must be accompanied by the crucial, non-negotiable and practical interventions in the country’s coronavirus prevention toolbox.

These include social distancing, hand hygiene practices involving regular washing of hands with water and soap or sanitizer, the wearing of cloth masks in public places, frequent cleaning of the work environment and other public spaces, symptom screening, testing, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing, and the use of personal protection equipment by all health workers.

The government, labor, business and the community sector are undertaking detailed work to ensure that lives will be saved and livelihoods will be protected as the economy is progressively unlocked and society adapts to the reality of economic activity with COVID-19 as an ever-present danger, Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement after Friday’s meeting.

The NEDLAC views level three as an opportunity for expanding local production and greater consumption of South African-made goods by consumers, as part of reversing the economic losses suffered during the national lockdown, and as part of the country’s long-term approach to industrialization and employment, the statement said.

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