South Africa coronavirus: Eased lockdown splits opposition, over 11K recoveries


South Africa has become a COVID-19 model for the continent in many ways since it confirmed its index case on 5th March, 2020. From the area of testing through to record number of recoveries, South Africa has been praised for pro-activeness in combating the virus.

The economic intervention measures rolled out by President Cyril Ramaphosa has also been classed as one of the most comprehensive across the continent. South Africa was one of the earliest to roll out such measures.

Challenges have been recorded in the area of enforcing the three-week lockdown which was augmented by two weeks. Spike in cases at certain points and incidents of shoplifting and increase in domestic violence cases have all been headaches Pretoria continues to deal with.

That President Ramaphosa is also the current Chairperson of the African Union, AU; means he has the delicate task of juggling national tasks withe the continental as Africa seeks global support to combat the pandemic.

Key statistics as at May 24, data from National Institute For Communicable Diseases, NICD

May 25: opposition split on eased lockdown

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday (May 24) a further easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown. Effective June 1, new measures will allow majority of the economy to return to full capacity.

The president said the latest decision had been reached after broad consultations with the cabinet to move the country to “level three” of the five-level lockdown.

The main opposition parties have expressed diverging positions on the development. The Democratic Alliance – biggest opposition – hailed the lifting as welcomed despite being late. The DA has been advocating for lifting the measure weeks back.

On their end, the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF; expressed shock and disappointment at the move which they said amounted to the government surrendering the gains that had been made in the past weeks.

The country which boasts Africa’s most industrialised economy has been on lockdown since late March. Government enforced strict restrictions with the hope of stemming new cases of the new coronavirus, the figures continue to soar each day with over half a million tests run so far.

Ramaphosa said of the new measures: “This will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people while significantly expanding… our public health interventions.”

Under level three, concessions have been made in some of the divisive areas of restriction, like a curfew and restriction on outdoor exercise would be lifted and alcohol could be sold but strictly for home consumption.

The president warned that the easing of measures meant that government expected a spike in new cases. He said the expected spike had been delayed by the restrictions and had also allowed government better prepare its health capacity. Targeted lockdowns could also be imposed in hotspots.

May 12: US donates ventilators

The U.S. government is donating “up to 1,000” ventilators to South Africa to help the country respond to COVID-19 as the Trump administration addresses criticism that it hasn’t done enough for countries in need.

“South Africa is the first country in the world to receive this state-of-the-art equipment” from the National Security Council and USAID, the U.S. Embassy said in a tweet. Last week, however, Mexico said it received a U.S. shipment of 211 ventilators as part of aid promised by President Donald Trump.

The U.S. soon will make similar donations to countries around the world, according to embassy officials. South Africa has the most confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa with more than 11,300, including more than 200 deaths. Virus cases across the 54-nation continent are now above 66,000.

For weeks, U.S. officials have indicated that the virus crisis at home has delayed the shipment of crucial medical equipment to other countries.

But in recent days the Trump administration has been making plans to ship some 8,000 of the breathing machines to foreign countries by the end of July. The White House has not said how many have been shipped, and it’s unclear if some nations would pay for the ventilators, which cost $5,000 to $30,000, depending on the model.

Trump has spoken with the leaders of South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya in recent days about the pandemic. “Nigeria just called. We’re giving them 250 ventilators,” Trump said last week. In a tweet, he said Ethiopia also had asked for the machines.

Africa has some of the world’s weakest health systems, and experts have warned they would be rapidly overwhelmed by the virus. African countries have joined forces with each other and the private sector to compete with richer countries around the world for scarce medical equipment, including badly needed testing kits.

Some African nations also are turning to manufacturing needed equipment themselves, a development that could help speed up industrialization of a continent that has long imported much of its medicines and other health items from abroad.

The U.S.-produced ventilators donated to South Africa are valued at $14 million, and with accessories, service plans and shipping the total donation is worth $20 million, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Tuesday.

The donation brings the total U.S. government financial support to South Africa’s COVID-19 response to more than $41 million, according to the statement.

Key statistics as at May 12, data from National Institute For Communicable Diseases, NICD

May 6: Cases at 7,572; medics likened to war troops

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed on Wednesday that two health workers had succumbed to COVID-19 in the line of duty. He said over 500 of them had tested positive for the virus whiles 149 have so far recovered.

He posted a series of tweets after receiving a donation of Personal Protection Equipment at a hospital in Rustenburg.

“We have a total of 511 health workers who have tested positive. 26 of them are hospitalized & we have lost 2 of them, a doctor and a nurse. 149 health workers have recovered. The contribution of the protective gear is therefore very important.

“We have seen the numbers increasing. We said that many of us will get the infection. Our role has been to slow down the rate at which the infection gets to us.

“Our health workers are like soldiers who go to war. They must be well trained, well armed and well protected. We want them to be confident that they are well trained, that they understand how they don’t get infected, and how they protect others.

“I pay tribute to al our health workers. They have done a great job. We bow our heads and salute you. We appreciate all the work you are doing. Both public and private health workers are one,” he added.

April 24: Record daily tests, Ramaphos laughs off mask struggle

Nearly 10,000 people were tested in South Africa in the past day (as of April 24) – the biggest daily test number since the virus hit the country.

With the record 9,796 tests, a total of 318 new cases, another record, was recorded according to NICD tallies and a post by health minister Zweli Mkhize.

The tallies show that about 3% of latest tests were positive – similar to previous days. Case count has neared 4,000 stretching South Africa’s lead over Egypt as the continent’s most impacted.

The minister stressed that despite concern with the increased cases, it is a testament to the efficacy of intensified community screening and testing. he said these drastic measures were key for epidemiologists to better understand the impact of the outbreak as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, president Ramaphosa has had a busy last 24 hours with a phone call with President Donald Trump during which the American leader pledged support for South Africa in the fight against the virus.

As of Friday he continued virtual meetings with other world leaders. The presidency reported that he partook in the launch of the Global Collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to new COVID19 tools, an initiative of the World Health Organisation.

The president on Thursday evening became the target of social media trolls after he had a hard time with his mask as he arrived to address the media.

Social media continues to mock the president with variations and fun perspectives to the incident. #MaskOnChallenge and #CyrilMaskChallenge have been trending on Twitter.

“For those who are laughing at me, I’m going to open a TV channel where I’m going to teach people how to put on a mask,” Mr Ramapahosa joked with journalists during a visit to a quarantine facility in Johannesburg on Friday.

April 23: Mboweni gives details on new tax measures

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has provided more details on the second set of measures that are aimed at assisting individuals and businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. President Ramaphosa earlier this week announced the $26 billion measure in an address.

“There is a critical need for government interventions to assist with job retention and support businesses that may be experiencing significant distress,” the National Treasury said in a statement on Thursday.

Last month, Mboweni announced the initial measures to assist tax compliant businesses with cash flow assistance and provide an incentive for businesses to retain their lower-income employees. The measures will help businesses focus on staying afloat and paying their employees and suppliers.

The measures are expected to provide around R70 billion in support, either through reductions in taxes otherwise payable or through deferrals of tax payments for tax compliant businesses.

The eight core interventions included:

Three other tax measures were announced with the aim to assist individual taxpayers and to provide financial backing from the fiscus to donate to the Solidarity Fund. They were: Increasing the deduction available for donations to the Solidarity Fund, adjusting pay-as-you-earn for donations made through the employer and expanding access to living annuity funds.

The above measures will be given legal effect in terms of changes to the two bills mentioned in the Media Statement issued on 29 March 2020 – the Draft Disaster Management Tax Relief Bill and the Draft Disaster Management Tax Relief Administration Bill.

READ MORE: Mboweni on Ramaphosa’s new tax measures

April 23: SA scores WHO praise

A top World Health Organization official has hailed steps taken by South Africa to curb spread of the virus despite being the second most impacted country on the countinent – only behind Egypt as of April 23.

The WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme Executive Director, Michael Ryan, addressing a virtual international press conference in Geneva on Wednesday said South Africa’s strategy pointed clearly to adequate preparedness on the part of government.

“The strategy in South Africa was based on preparations, primary prevention, lockdown and primary surveillance and 67 mobile units around the country, 28,000 community health workers trained in case detection.

“And I think with over 120 000 tests completed, with a 2.7 % positivity rate – which is incredible for that much testing for that return,” Ryan said.

The next sub-Saharan African country with huge test figures is Ghana, where authorities say over 60,000 tests have so far been conducted with 1,154 cases confirmed, the third most impacted in the region.

Summary: The big SANDF lockdown deployment

The Joint Standing Committee on Defence on Wesnesday announced that it was to deploy additional members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist government’s intervention in the fight against COVID-19.

President Ramaphosa wrote to the committee on the employment of the SANDF. He had also informed Parliament regarding the reasons, place, number of soldiers, cost involved, as well as the period of employment.

Chairperson Cyril Xaba said the committee is satisfied by the reasons given and the necessity to employ an additional 73 180 soldiers in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“Of critical importance is the deployment of the South African Military Health Services and its capabilities, which is necessary to support the Department of Health, when considering the trajectory of infections expected, as per research by experts.

“Furthermore, the committee is satisfied with the reason that the initial 2 820 deployed was insufficient, considering the expected scale of the disease,” Xaba said. The deployment will come with huge financial implications, with the injection of R4.5 billion.