Friday, 18 September 2020

Pretoria: Government says while a ban will be put in place for international countries still experiencing high infection rates when South Africa reopens its border for global travellers, this will be reviewed regularly.

Addressing media on Level 1 regulations on Friday, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said government will publish a list of affected countries in due course.

While South Africa will move to lockdown Level 1 on Monday, international border gates will reopen on 1 October 2020.

“International travel on the continent is allowed to and from all countries. However, for other international travel, there will be a schedule of countries where infections are high, which will temporarily not be allowed, until such time their infections get under control.

“Even for these countries, [the ban is] not permanent. It will depend what happens to their infections [and when] they come under control, they will be allowed.

“The Health Minster will make sure that the affected countries are properly identified. I don’t know the exact date [for the list publication] but it will be before we start travelling… This is not a static list and it will be changing all the time,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

This, she said, is because some countries will experience peaks at different periods.

Visa applications at embassies will be permitted from next week. The Minister said long-term visas will be reactivated immediately.

South Africans returning from abroad, she said, will be expected to produce a medical certificate not older than 72 hours, clearly indicating their negative COVID-19 test results.

“That means they won’t have to be quarantined if they don’t have symptoms,” she said.

South Africans who do not comply will be quarantined, a service they will be charged for.

“The long-term visa will be re-established. People can then use those visas from 1 October.”

Land borders, sea ports

On land borders, the Minister said the 18 that were opened during the lockdown for the import and export of goods, will now be allow the movement of people and tourists.

“The 35 land borders that were closed will remain closed. We are just opening the 18 fully so that they can take traffic for tourists [and other forms of travel]. We must remember that we [are only permitted] to use the 18 borders,” she said.

While all commercial sea ports will resume operations, passenger-ferrying cruise ships will be not be allowed to offload.

The OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town international airports will remain the only reception for global travellers.

On domestic travel, regulations will not change for long distance (200km) buses and taxis will still be allowed to fill to 70% capacity, while observing health protocols.

“When we move around, we need to remember that at level 5, we were under a 24-hour curfew and the hours of the curfew have been diminishing with the levels. At this level, the curfew will start at 00:01 and end at 4:00.

“Everything will be looked at from time to time,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

The Minister said while there is an improvement in the infection rate, caution still has to be taken.

“We are not out of the woods yet. Let’s just be clear about that,” she said.

Night vigils, nightclubs, initiation schools and passenger ships for international travel remain banned.

Beyond this, spectators are still not permitted at sporting venues. In this regard, international sporting events are still not allowed.

COVID-19 remains a threat

South Africans will soon be able to give their friends and family the best send off, as more mourners will be permitted to attend funerals from Monday under alert Level 1.

Religious gatherings have also been given the green light to accommodate hundreds of worshippers. However, the Minister warned that the country is not out of the woods yet.

According to the Minister, funerals can now have 100 people, up from the 50 allowed under Level 2. However, night vigils are still prohibited.

“If your venue is small and cannot take a 100 people at 1.5 metres apart, then you must use half the capacity of the venue,” she explained.

Meanwhile, health protocols such as the washing of hands, sanitising and wearing of masks still apply.

“We know that funerals are super-spreaders because of the activities at the funerals, where people are singing, consoling one another. It means the chance of spreading the virus is higher,” the Minister explained.

Also, the wearing of masks remains a non-negotiable. “If you leave your house, you wear a mask. When you enter the building, the owner of the building should ensure you wear a mask. That is a must,” she stressed.

Meanwhile, churches will be allowed to house a maximum of 250 congregants no matter how big the venue is.

“If your venue can’t allow for social distancing, then you cannot have 250 people. You have to have less or half the size of the venue.”

According to the Minister, this goes for other social gatherings too, such as weddings.

For outdoor gatherings, you cannot have more than 500 people, while gyms are now allowed to have 50% of the capacity of the venue.

Dlamini-Zuma acknowledged that the past six months under the lockdown – aimed at reducing and mitigating the risk of the dangerous Coronavirus – have been difficult and testing.

“It has changed our lives forever and probably reversed the economic and social gains we have registered as a democratic South Africa.”

While the country is opening for more economic activity, Dlamini-Zuma warned against complacency even though the rate of infections is increasing.

“The virus has the feature of being silent, but very efficient… It also loves crowds…” she cautioned.

She said the country was “slowly departing from the eye of the storm of COVID-19” and that is why government is easing restrictions and increasing economic activity.

However, the “virus remains a threat” as more people will be out and about, Dlamini-Zuma told the media.

The country is in it for the long haul and efforts need to be redoubled to avoid the further spread of the deadly virus that has claimed almost 16 000 lives.

The Minister thanked citizens for their collective efforts and the sacrifices made it possible for the country to move to level 1.

“By observing the health and hygienic protocols we have ensured that our limited health capacity is efficiently used and is sufficient to all those who needed care.

“By following the regulations, we had to adjust our approach from time to time to respond to this virus and it has enabled us to make this progress thus far as a nation,” she added.

To read the full Level 1 regulations click here.