President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday a further easing of South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown from June 1, allowing the vast majority of the economy to return to full capacity.
Africa’s most industrialised economy has been largely shut down since late March when the government enforced severe restrictions to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus which has so far infected 22,583 people and killed 429.
Ramaphosa, who has been under pressure from rival political parties and a variety of industries to ease the restrictions, said following broad consultations the cabinet had decided to move the country to “level three” of its five-level lockdown system.
“This will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people while significantly expanding... our public health interventions,” he said in a televised address.
While Ramaphosa initially enjoyed broad support for the strict lockdown, which confined most people to their homes aside from essential trips and banned the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, that has given way to concerns about the impact on an already shrinking economy and on a mostly poor population.
Under level three, Ramaphosa said that aside from a few exceptions where the risk of transmission is high, the economy could return to full capacity, a curfew and restriction on outdoor exercise would be lifted and alcohol could be sold for home consumption.
He warned though that this would result in a spike in the number of cases, which he said had only been delayed by the measures taken so far and given the country a chance to build up its public health capacity.
Any part of the country, such as coronavirus hotspots like the major cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town, could be returned to a stricter lockdown if the rise in cases and the impact on the health system became too severe, he added.