News analysis

Lockdown Alert Level 3
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa is under pressure to step SA, overall, down to Alert Level 3.
  • Level 3 regulations are in the process of being drafted.
  • As the lockdown levels were originally envisaged, that would have been a big deal, with everything from books to cars suddenly on sale again.
  • Less than a month later, big parts of Level 3 have already found their way into Level 4 – leaving booze, cigarettes, and domestic air travel as the headline Level 3 changes.
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The government was proposing that "most of the country" be placed on Alert Level 3 "by the end of May", President Cyril Ramaphosa told South Africa on 13 May.

Less than a week later he faces intense pressure to move things ahead faster – with public criticism of SA's lockdown from top scientific advisors, business calling for Level 2, and support for the move to Level 3 at every consultation.

On Monday, cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was apparently too busy drafting Level 3 rules to appear before Parliament, suggesting a step-down may not be too long in coming.

But when it does, South Africa will not be in for the dramatic change that was originally envisaged, because Level 3 just ain't what it used to be.

When the five Alert Levels were first proposed to the public – less than a month ago, on 25 April – Level 4 was seen as a barely ameliorated total lockdown, while Level 3 would represent the point at which many consumer offerings restart. (Level 2 would permit inter-provincial travel again, while Level 1 would see sit-down restaurants and sporting facilities reopened.)

The originally-envisaged Level 3 will still be a major change for those who smoke and drink: even under the stricter interpretation of the time, the sale of tobacco products and limited sales of alcoholic drinks were proposed under Level 3.

Also under Level 3, as originally planned, all types of manufacturing are to be allowed to run at 50% capacity, with a select few allowed to scale up to 100%.

In another major change, the original Level 3 plan would allow domestic air travel again – if you could prove you have good reason to fly.

Other landmark changes between Level 4 and Level 3 have already filtered into Level 4, however, as rules have been incrementally and individually relaxed.

That leaves only a handful of further changes South Africans can expect: garden and pool services to restart, as well as laundry and dry-cleaning, and stores again allowed to sell appliances and any form of clothing or textile (rather than being able to offer those only online, for delivery.)

That has raised some expectations that Level 2 relaxations could be moved up into Level 3, with everyone from real estate companies to representatives for domestic workers lobbying for inclusion in Level 3.

As of Tuesday neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma's offices would talk about the chances of such changes, but those doing the lobbying were cautiously optimistic. 

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