Eased lockdown restrictions being discussed for South Africa

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and the government are expected to discuss further adjustments to South Africa’s lockdown restrictions, as the country continues to see a drop in Covid-19 cases and a return to everyday life.

This includes rule changes around schools and gatherings – two of the last major sticking points under the adjusted level 1 lockdown.

Speaking at a lekgotla on Wednesday (26 January), Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga said her department had made recommendations to the NCCC to reduce the social distancing measures in classrooms.

The ideal is to have all learners receiving contact teaching time at the same time to mitigate against dropouts, increase retention rates and prevent failures, she said.

Basic Education director-general Mathanzima Mweli confirmed that a presentation had been made to the NCCC on 20 January, with president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet expected to make a pronouncement shortly.

While many schools returned to full-time teaching in 2021, smaller schools and those with a high number of pupils have had to retain a shift system due to ongoing concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic and potential transmission.

On Wednesday, the opposition Democratic Alliance filed papers in the Gauteng High Court to enable and compel schools to open fully, immediately.

“Over 80% of South African schools are still operating on a rotational basis, whereby each child only attends school half the time, on alternate days or weeks,” the DA said in an accompanying statement.

“It defies belief and strains sanity that some 80% of South African schoolchildren are still being denied half their schooling, on the assumption that this is somehow beneficial to them or to society as a whole, on a balance of risks.”

Gatherings and events

The NCCC is also expected to discuss regulations around gatherings in South Africa – which are currently limited to 2,000 people outdoors and 1,000 people indoors.

In instances where a venue cannot accommodate this many people, no more than 50% of the venue capacity may be used with people spaced at least 1.5 metres apart from one another.

Sports, Arts and Culture minister Nathi Mthethwa told TimesLive that while these restrictions remain in place for now, the next NCCC meeting will discuss increasing the numbers.

He added that the restrictions will likely be updated in a phased manner based on the capacity of venues and stadiums – with 50%, 75% and 100% capacity plans previously mooted.

“We will listen to what the experts say and as far as we are concerned, we want to see stadiums opened and we want to see events because it has to do with livelihoods. It is in the interest of the government to have stadiums and the economy opened and people back to work.”

The end of lockdown

Analysts at professional services firm PwC forecast that government can completely lift South Africa’s level 1 lockdown in the coming months, but that this will be heavily dependent on how quickly it can introduce separate regulations.

“The fact that December closed — and January has continued — with no tightening of lockdown rules, suggests that South Africa entered 2022 en route to a new post-lockdown era. In this paradigm, Covid-19 has moved from being a pandemic to being endemic,” PwC said in a research note on Tuesday (25 January).

“As such, it is highly unlikely that the economy will again see significant lockdown restrictions outside of broader social distancing and other medical steps to combat virus transmission.”

Nonetheless, a level 1 lockdown is likely to continue in the short term until legislation is in place to cope with the challenges of Covid-19 outside a state of emergency, it said.

“This 22-month old state of emergency provides the government with powers to quickly respond to any adverse developments around Covid-19; alternative mechanism would have to be legislated allowing for quick reaction.”

PwC said the post-lockdown economy’s key pandemic-related challenge will no longer be domestic policies, but rather those imposed from abroad.

At present, 100 countries still have total travel bans in place against South Africa, with another 123 applying specific restrictions like quarantines upon arrival.

Read: Government looking at timetable and curriculum changes for schools in South Africa


Leave a Reply