News analysis

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  • At least some industries are hoping – and lobbying – to go back to work from 1 May, when SA is due to enter a level 4 national lockdown.
  • But employees and employers are worried about those with children, and there are no solutions on the horizon.
  • A phased and slow reopening of schools plan is premised on the worry that older people provide a lot of after-hours childcare, and would be put at risk if schools become viral hotspots.
  • Companies, meanwhile, will be at least strongly discouraged from having anyone unnecessary on their premises, so work creches are likely out.
  • Domestic workers, which may or may not include nannies and au pairs, are currently slated to return to work only long after most other employees.
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At least some industries hope to be back in business from 1 May – or more likely 4 May, the first Monday after that public holiday, and were on Friday already lobbying hard to be included in those allowed to return to work first.

But childcare is not high on the list of priorities for reopening, leaving parents with a problem that, as yet, has no solution in sight.

South Africa will enter level 4 of a five-level lockdown system in May, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday night, when current restrictions will be somewhat relaxed.

Read | Workers to return in batches of one third: what we know about SA’s reopening plan

Under one draft plan – which is subject to change – that would mean professionals, non-essential workers in the finance industry, and all agriculture would return to work.

Other industries, including fast food, would unlock at level 3. But domestic work and, it is believed, nannies and au pairs, will only be allowed back at work at level 2, and creches outside the school system may also fall under this level.

See also: Here’s at what stage takeaways and domestic work will be legal again under a draft govt plan

Meanwhile a draft plan for school re-opening, also subject to change, staggers the return of children up to mid-July. The broad outline of such a plan was confirmed by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday, when he promised that the relevant ministers "will provide details on the process for the phased re-opening of schools and other educational institutions."

All indications are that companies will face strict requirements in reopening, including limiting the number of non-essential staff on their premises and banning visitors that are not strictly necessary. That suggests on-site creches and child minders will be, at the very least, strongly discouraged.

Where does that leave parents? Nowhere good. Companies and their advisors seem to not have come up any workable solutions, and while ongoing government discussions acknowledge the problem, the greater concern is for what would happen if schools were reopened too hastily.

See also | The post-lockdown plan: you can cross provinces to get back to work; 10 people only at weddings

Opening schools could threaten older people, one top-level group was warned, and the "risk of senior citizens at risk from caregivers of children should be considered in this regard".  

Older people, who are particularly at risk from Covid-19, also face potential restrictions on their travel, with the recommendation that they be at least discouraged from movement.

That would preclude some from acting in their usual capacity as supplementary and after-hours childminders.

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