President Cyril Ramaphosa has all but admitted the government's lockdown strategy can no longer curb the spread of Covid-19.
Addressing the nation in a solemn speech that ended with an incredibly powerful message about gender-based violence, Ramaphosa said it was now up to individuals to take responsibility into “our own hands”.
His speech still did not provide relief for smokers or clarity about social gatherings and travelling for purposes other than shopping or praying. But Ramaphosa said the details about new Level 3 regulations would be released in due course.
The Gauteng High Court is due to deliver judgment in a challenge brought by the tobacco industry against the severe ban on cigarette sales.
The president has admitted sections of the economy, which have been shut down to prevent a rapid spread of the coronavirus, cannot be closed forever. So, as the country prepares for its peak in coronavirus infections, Ramaphosa was forced to allow more freedoms.
Restaurants, hotels, casinos, hairdressers, beauty salons, theatres and conference centres were the biggest “winners” from Wednesday night’s announcement on the relaxation of Level 3 regulations.
Ramaphosa said these industries employed more than 500 000 people, of which most are women.
This is a significant change in strategy for Ramaphosa’s government. The president was at pains to explain only individual behaviour could now prevent the rapid transmission of the virus. Washing hands, wearing cloth masks and social distancing remain the most effective weapons in our armour.
“With the move to alert Level 3 from 1 June, our prevention response is now largely focused on the simple everyday things that each of us can do to protect ourselves and our communities. It is about each of us taking personal responsibility, wherever we are and whoever we are, for curbing the spread of the disease.
“The power to defeat coronavirus is in our hands.”
South Africa had one of the hardest lockdowns in the world, shutting down most of the economy, schools and social movement. Ramaphosa has been criticised for exacerbating our economic and poverty crisis, but he maintains lives have been saved by flattening the curve.
Ramaphosa maintains the healthcare system has been beefed up during the lockdown, although it is still unclear how many extra ICU beds and ventilators the health department procured since the end of March. Available numbers show we are still woefully underprepared for a national surge in cases.
But all is not lost; Ramaphosa celebrated the breakthrough research by Oxford University that dexamethasone, widely available and produced in South Africa, reduces deaths among patients with Covid-19. South Africa’s recovery rate from Covid-19 is high and our mortality rate is stubbornly low on 2.1%.
All of this would have informed Ramaphosa’s decision to change tack, for which he will predictably be criticised by his political foes.
Officially Published by News24