News analysis

Lockdown level 1

  • "Watch this space next week" is what President Cyril Ramaphosa has to say in the context of a possible move to Level 1 coronavirus restrictions.
  • Health minister Zweli Mkhize says debate on less stringent rules is ongoing.
  • There aren't many restrictions left, with Level 1 originally envisaged to see the return of sit-down restaurants, hair care, and untrammelled shopping.
  • It is not yet clear whether South Africans will be allowed to party over weekends, or whether foreign visitors will be welcome, under Level 1.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Alert Level 1 could be coming soon, President Cyril Ramaphosa suggested on Wednesday, telling editors to "watch this space next week".

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has also suggested that debate is ongoing about the move to less onerous restrictions on citizens, as ongoing monitoring shows no new surge in infections, and no reason for concern about the readiness of the health system to deal with cases of Covid-19. 

There is no official work on just what Level 1 will look like, with Ramaphosa saying the government is considering input from various parts of society, including religious leaders who would like to see worship in groups of more than 50.

But widespread and ongoing consultation and lobbying has yielded some hints on what may be in store.

Under the original risk-adjusted strategy proposal, the move from Level 2 to Level 1 would have been significant for the construction industry, which would have been allowed to restart all projects, and for consumers in a number of ways. It would have seen sit-down meals allowed at restaurants for the first time, and would have opened up accommodation for pure leisure. It was also due to allow haircare and other personal services to operate again, and to fully open up retail and e-commerce.

Thanks to the gradual relaxation of restrictions during levels 2 and 3, though, not much remains to be unbanned, beyond moving around at night for no good reason and nightclubs.

Both of those are believed to be under discussion, with the likelihood that the national curfew of 22:00 to 04:00 will be dropped – at least on weekdays – and that late-night entertainment will be allowed again, at least on weekdays.

There may be some debate about retaining restrictions on weekends, in line with the policy of banning alcohol sales over weekends, though it is not clear what the justification for such a stance would be.

There is likewise rumoured debate around opening South Africa's borders under Level 1, with arguments for doing so centring on the economic benefits, and arguments against including fear of that new strains of Sars-CoV-2 could enter the country along with visitors.

More minor changes at Level 1 could include dropping requirement for restaurants to keep records of patrons, which some industry players say are logistically onerous, and allowing spectators at sporting events, as long as they remain distant from one another.

Not expected to change are mask rules – or the power of the state to rule by decree. The national state of disaster, which provides the framework within which coronavirus rules are made, is due to expire on 15 September. In order to maintain Alert Level 1, and the ability to rapidly move back to more stringent rules, that is likely to be extended for at least another month.

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