Pretoria – South Africa is opening up international travel to all countries subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative Covid-19 certificate.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, addressing the “national family meeting” last night, said the country intended to limit the spread of the infection through importation by using rapid tests and strict monitoring.
The president also announced that the Cabinet had declared November 25 to 29 as the five days of mourning for the victims of Covid-19. During that time, the national flag will fly at half-mast throughout the country from 6am to 6pm.
The nation has been urged to wear a black armband or other signs of mourning to signify respect for those who have died from the virus.
“We call upon all South Africans to demonstrate their solidarity and do this in remembrance of our countrymen and women, in recognition of the grief that we share as a nation, and as an affirmation of our determination to overcome this devastating disease,” he said.
“As we look back on a year of much pain and sorrow, it is important as a nation that we should honour and remember all those who have succumbed to this disease.”
Regarding the economy, Ramaphosa said the government recognised that some industries were still not able to operate fully and that it would take some time for many jobs to return. “That is why we have extended the special Covid-19 grant for a further three months until January 2021,” he said.
“This will provide much-needed income to around 6 million people who are unemployed and do not receive any other form of government grant. Following extensive discussions with our social partners, the UIF will extend the Covid-19 benefit scheme by another month to October 15.”
He said the UIF scheme, which had already paid out nearly R53 billion to over 4.7 million workers, was necessary to protect those who were most vulnerable in a time of great distress, but would have to come to an end.
And in announcing the amended lockdown alert level 1 regulations, Ramaphosa said the restoration of the normal trading hours for the sale of alcohol at retail outlets. He further said the national state of disaster had been extended by another month.
He also used the address to drive home the message that Covid-19 was far from over. He said South Africa had endured “what we hope is the worst of the storm”.
“At the height of the pandemic, in July, we were recording around 12 000 new infections a day.
For more than two months now, the number of new infections has remained relatively stable at below 2 000 a day. The number of deaths has been declining steadily, as has the number of people requiring hospitalisation. The total number of new hospital admissions has declined for the 14th consecutive week.”
He said the country owed this to the decisive measures taken early in the pandemic, the contribution that every South African had made in fighting this virus and the front-line workers who selflessly and courageously staffed medical facilities, gone out into communities to screen and to test, maintained peace and stability, and kept essential services working.
“From the progress made, from the lessons learnt, we now know that under the current alert level 1 we have all the tools we need to prevent a resurgence.
“For as long as we observe all the necessary health protocols and remaining restrictions – as individuals, as businesses, as institutions – there should be no need to return to a higher alert level.” Ramaphosa said.
“We should be proud of our response as a nation, which has been widely recognised and commended by many across the world. We must do everything we can to prevent this from happening in our country. If we are to prevent a resurgence of infections in our country there are a few areas that we must pay attention to.”
He said the first was the situation in the Eastern Cape, which was showing signs of a resurgence. In the last week, the number of new cases in the province was 50% higher than the week before, the president said. And the total number of new cases in the last 14 days was around 145% higher than the previous 14 days.
The evidence suggested that the increases in the Eastern Cape could have been triggered by outbreaks in institutions of higher learning such as universities, schools and attendance by people at large gatherings, according to the president.
“When this is combined with poor adherence to social distancing, mask wearing and other poor hygiene measures, the environment for rising infections is set. With many people moving between the Eastern Cape and other provinces – particularly the Western Cape – it is a matter of time before this surge spreads to other parts of the country. We therefore need to take measures to contain the rise in infections,” Ramaphosa added.
He said the second area of concern was the upcoming festive season, during which many South Africans travelled to other parts of the country and where people tended to gather socially. “But we can avoid a second wave if we each play our part, if we remember what we need to do to keep ourselves and others safe.”