Today, 11 November, President Cyril Ramaphosa updated the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic. Concerns over a ‘second wave’ have increased, with the Eastern Cape province the epicenter of a fresh surge in infections. At least for now, the government is reluctant to return to more restrictive lockdown measures given the depth of South Africa’s economic and fiscal crisis. In fact, some of the “Level 1” restrictions in place since 20 September will be relaxed further, though Ramaphosa is pushing for greater adherence to health protocols and efforts around contact tracing.
While Ramaphosa admitted collective “coronavirus fatigue,” he issued a stern warning citing the global Covid-19 resurgence and ‘second waves’ in many countries. Although South Africa’s pandemic picture has stabilized markedly since July, when daily new infections stood at around 12,000 per day, concerns over a resurgence are taking hold. Recent daily new cases averaging below 2,000 per day could increase quickly as a result of a resurgence in the Eastern Cape, where the number of new cases increased by 145% over the last 14 days, compared with the prior two-week period. Ramaphosa warned that it could be “a matter of time” before the Eastern Cape surge spreads to other parts of the country, particularly given domestic travel patterns during the upcoming holiday season.
Although Ramaphosa used South Africa’s recent progress in combatting Covid-19 to vindicate his government’s early harsh lockdown, there can be little doubt that political appetite for a return to restrictive lockdown measures is running very low. Indeed, the government’s ‘risk level’ strategy – and the possibility of a reimposition of higher alert levels – may be dead in the water, at least for now. Instead, the government’s “resurgence plan” will focus on interventions like primary healthcare outreach, including contact tracing. The state of disaster will be extended by one month, until 15 December, but no new travel restrictions, curfews or school closures are currently envisaged. In fact, the trading hours, including for the controversial subject of alcohol sales, will be normalized. To boost the recovery of the tourism sector, which typically accounts for around 8.6% of GDP but has been ravaged by the pandemic, South Africa will drop its travel ‘red list’ to allow entry of all foreign travelers subject to presentation of a recent negative Covid-19 test. At least for now, the Ramaphosa administration seems to favor placing greater responsibility on the public, rather than returning to heavy-handed, top-down lockdown restrictions.