South Africa enacted 5 levels of lockdown in response to the COVID-19 crisis. They have just relaxed it from Level 5 to Level 4 on May 1st, although the joke in South Africa is that it is really Level 4.75. Not much has changed. You can exercise in the morning, but have to be back inside by 9am!!
Level 4: All essential services are to function at level 4, but still no air travel. Bus and taxi services are allowed and private motor vehicles at all times, but with limitations on vehicle capacity and stringent hygiene requirement. Curfew is in place between 8pm and 5am. Essential movement is allowed during the day, but not just for taking a walk.
Level 3: Public transport will be functioning with strict hygiene requirements from level 3, as will availability to purchase alcohol, which was controversially forbidden at the beginning of the lockdown. Take away restaurants will be available at level 3. Curfew is relaxed.
Level 2: Domestic work and cleaning services will be allowed and informal waste pickers can work. Domestic air travel will be allowed, with specific permissions needed.
Level 1 is the bottom current level that the government has stated, but even here they say it is with “moderate virus spread, with high readiness”. Even at this level, there will be restrictions on international travel.
However, the following things will still not be allowed, even at level 1:
- Conferences and conference centres
- Bars and shebeens
- Sit in restaurants and hotels
- All entertainment venues: cinemas etc
- Sporting events
- Religious, cultural and social gatherings.
- No gatherings with more than 10 people allowed
- Passengers on all modes of transport must wear a cloth mask.
The question South Africans are asking as of May 2nd is when are the restrictions going to be relaxed. Questions are now seriously being asked of the government for more clarification on how the lockdown will be reduced, having initiated one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Governments all over the world are being asked the same questions and many are seemingly reluctant to relax these extraordinarily strict restrictions. To put in perspective, South Africa with a population of an estimated 59 million people has according to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, had an infection rate of 0.01% of which 98.1% of those infected are currently surviving the virus. There have been only 116 deaths in South Africa. Compare that to some countries in Europe with around 25,000 deaths and in the USA, with over 50,000 deaths.
There is a growing question regarding how long the people in South Africa will endure this, given the suffering it is already causing many millions of people. The government is not even mentioning a normal state yet. Many people all over the world are questioning the logic of rigid lockdowns, from both a public health strategy and also from the infringement of democratic rights. The threats from the virus have to be severe enough to justify this. It is hard to make that case in South Africa, and in fact throughout the world given the current number of mortalities due to COVID-19. A letter in the Daily Maverick in South Africa expresses these concerns.
It is likely that in the coming weeks, many countries, including South Africa will have to seriously consider whether the current lockdowns were justified and to analyse the consequences that the lockdown is having on all strata of society. There may be a political price to pay for many governments if it is seen that the lockdown did more harm than good.