News in South Africa 13th September:
1. Lockdown level 2:
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that South Africa’s adjusted level 3 lockdown regulations will be relaxed as the country sees a decline in its third wave of Covid-19 cases.
In a national address on Sunday evening, the president said that a sustained decline in infections has been seen over the last two weeks.
While the third wave peaked and declined in Gauteng, there is now a marked decline in all provinces, with the exception of the Northern Cape and the Free State, he said.
As cases decline, Ramaphosa said that the country will move to lockdown level 2 on Monday (13 September) with restrictions to be eased in the following areas:
- The hours of curfew will now run from 23h00 – 04h00. Non-essential establishments such as bars and gyms will need to close at 22h00 to give staff to get home.
- All gatherings will now be limited to 250 people indoors, while outdoor gatherings will be limited to 500 people. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these amounts of people, then no more than 50% of the floor space may be used.
- The sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will now be permitted from 10h00 – 18h00 from Monday-Friday. On-site consumption will be subject to licensing permissions until 22h00.
- Funerals remain restricted to no more than 50 people, and, as before, night vigils, after-funeral gatherings and ‘after-tears’ gatherings are not allowed.
Ramaphosa said that these restrictions will be reviewed in two weeks. The government will also present its plan for vaccine passports at this time so that people can attend sporting and other events, he said.
In a government gazette published on Sunday evening (12 September) detailing the adjusted level 2 lockdown, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the following activities are still expressly prohibited:
- Night vigils;
- After-funeral and cremation gatherings, including ‘after tears’ gatherings;
- Night clubs;
- The country’s land borders remain closed – except for specific border posts;
- Passenger ships for international leisure purposes – excluding small crafts
- Attendance of any sporting events by spectators.
The gazette also leaves room for further exclusions specific to the public transport and education sectors, which those respective departments would determine.
The gazette states that everyone is confined to their homes from 23h00 until 04h00 unless they perform an essential service as determined by a cabinet minister, have a permit, or attend to a security or medical emergency.
2. Mandatory vaccines still considered:
Businesses continue to weigh up mandatory vaccination.
While groups like Discovery and Sanlam have moved to make Covid vaccination mandatory for employees and people entering their premises, other companies, like Momentum, have shied away from the policy.
However, protocols and changes are in place to deal with the unvaccinated or those who refuse to get the jab – such as shifting jobs around or putting client-facing anti-vax workers in the back office. Whether vaccination is mandatory or not, workers who refuse to vaccinate will face some consequences.
3. Pleas for no future alcohol bans:
Alcohol industry groups have welcomed South Africa’s move to an adjusted level 2 lockdown but have raised concerns about the damage another ban could do to the sector.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday evening (12 September), that alcohol sales for on-site consumption will be permitted seven days a week up to 22h00, and the sale of alcohol from retail outlets for off-site consumption will be permitted from Monday to Friday between 10h00 and 18h00.
“The further easing of restrictions will provide some reprieve to those businesses that have survived the four alcohol bans, which forced the industry to shut down for 161 days since March last year, putting just over 240,000 jobs at risk,” said the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA).
“However, with a Covid-19 fourth wave expected to hit at the beginning of December, any recovery seen in the sector will be eradicated should another ban be enforced by the government over the festive season.”
With this period also being the busiest time for liquor outlets and establishments, another alcohol ban will no doubt be the final nail in the coffin for thousands of businesses and the jobs they support, BASA said.
“BASA, therefore, continues to call for a proper consultation by the government before considering any new regulations to stop the spread of Covid-19 over the coming months. Our industry, and the over 450,000 livelihoods it supports, can simply not afford the president announcing another immediate ban on the legal trade of alcohol without any prior warning or an opportunity to properly engage with government.”
The beer industry said it would continue to roll out reasonable interventions to save both lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.
“We call on all liquor outlets and establishments to continue playing their part by enforcing the wearing of masks and social distancing in their establishments. We also call on consumers to drink in moderation and continue taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others from Covid-19.
4. 20 hour power cuts being fought:
A residents association in the farming town of Bethal in Mpumalanga has dragged the local Govan Mbeki Municipality (GMM) and Eskom to court, claiming that power cuts of up to 20 hours a day are threatening the livelihoods and health of residents.
This is not the first time residents have taken a local municipality to court for service delivery failure, but what is unique about this case is that the applicant – the Bethal & eMzinoni Community for Services Association – is asking the court for a “structural interdict” that would force the municipality to settle its roughly R1.18 billion debt to Eskom and subject itself to court supervision to prevent or limit further power cuts.
The other respondents in the case are the Gert Sibande Municipality (under which GMM falls), the municipal managers at GMM and Gert Sibande Municipality, and the provincial and national ministers for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
The case was heard earlier this month in the Mpumalanga High Court.
Deposing for the residents’ association, Bethal businessman and resident Yusuf Carrim lays out the extent of the municipality’s financial and operational collapse: power outages of between four and 20 hours a day commenced in December 2019, and have increased in frequency and duration since March 2020.
The affected areas are the towns of Bethal, eMzinoni and Milan Park, all of which fall under GMM.
The association is asking the court to force the municipal respondents and Eskom to come to a repayment agreement for the roughly R1.18 billion owed to the electricity utility, and “to comply with their respective constitutional and statutory duties and to forthwith render the uninterrupted basic service of electricity to all those living and working within the Greater Bethal area who are willing and able to pay for it”.
5. Mauritius lifts travel bans:
Mauritius has lifted its ban on South African travellers, with fully vaccinated visitors able to explore the island nation without being confined to a specific resort from 1 October.
Mauritius has spent most of the pandemic shut off from the rest of the world. Ongoing travel restrictions have had a devastating impact on its tourism industry, which accounts for almost a quarter of the island’s total economy.
In a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector, while keeping Covid-19 infections down and increasing vaccine coverage across the island, Mauritius embarked on a phased reopening which officially started on 1 September.
Under the banner of enjoying a “hotel holiday” in Mauritius, vaccinated travellers have been confined to selected resorts. This first phase, which ends on 30 September, allows vaccinated visitors to access beaches, pools, and other facilities within the perimeter of the hotel or resort.
South African travellers have, however, been excluded from the first phase of Mauritius’ reopening, with the island nation upholding its travel ban and suspending flights.
The second phase of Mauritius’ reopening will include visitors from South Africa, as confirmed by the Mauritian government’s decision to lift its ban on Friday.
“We welcome the decision by the Mauritian government. South Africa remains a proximity and priority market for tourism on the island,” said Arvind Bundhun, director of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA).
“We are delighted that we will be able to restart our long-standing relationship after an 18-month ban on travel.”
But while the ban was ended on Friday 10 September, authorised commercial flights will only resume from 1 October, aligning with the second phase of Mauritius’ reopening.