While government plans to steadily reduce the COVID-19 alert level by stabilising infection and anticipating the inevitable increase in cases, President Ramaphosa has warned the virus might be around for another year.
South Africa moved to Level 4 of the national lockdown on 1 May. The lockdown is aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. The move to a lower level of the lockdown was implemented to gradually allow economic activity to resume.
“But it will not be life as we knew it before,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday.
In his weekly newsletter, the President said while much remains unknown about the pandemic, experts now agree that the virus will remain a threat to global public health for some time.
“We must therefore be prepared to continue to live with the Coronavirus among us for a year or even more. We must be prepared for a new reality in which the fight against COVID-19 becomes part of our daily existence,” he said.
“Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we make in our behaviour.”
Even after lockdown, he said, the country will still need to observe social distancing, wear facemasks, wash hands regularly, and avoid contact with other people.
“We will need to re-organise workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public places to limit transmission. We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and meetings that minimise opportunities for the virus to spread,” he said.
The President said this is a reality that countries across the world are having to confront. This was the case, even in countries that have started easing their lockdown restrictions tentatively and with extreme caution.
“Like we have done, many countries are implementing extensive stimulus packages to strengthen their respective health care sectors, support ailing industries and workers and provide relief to vulnerable households,” he said.
Like South Africa, the said countries have had to heed calls for economic activity to resume.
At the same time, health experts around the globe are warning of a ‘second wave’ of infections as public life resumes.
A number of countries, including Germany, Iran and China have seen a rise in new infections since they relaxed certain restrictions.
“We will be no different. We can and must expect infections to rise as more people return to work. We must accept the reality, prepare for it and adapt to it,” he said.
Increasing screening and testing
The next phase of the country’s national response, he said, is as much about continuity as it is about change or innovation.
“We will step up our intensive screening, testing and case management programme. We will introduce new measures to make contact tracing more effective. We will need to implement mass sanitisation of workplaces, public transport and other spaces.”
President Ramaphosa said since the lockdown began on 27 March, most South Africans have observed the regulations that are in place for their own health and safety.
“They have made an informed decision to do so, understanding it is necessary for their own lives and for the lives of those around them.”
As the restrictions on economic activity and daily life are eased, said President Ramaphosa, it is vital that all South Africans maintain that firm sense of personal responsibility.
“In all that we do, in every sphere of life, we must take care of our own health and the health of others. Whether as individuals, employers, employees, government, civil society, trade unions or businesses, we will all continue to have a role to play in fighting the pandemic,” he said.