ramaphosa level 1

Photo: GovernmentZA / Flickr

Ramaphosa told to ‘move straight to Level 1 of lockdown’

Members of the scientific community and the political opposition are pressing President Ramaphosa to skip ahead to Alert Level 1 – here’s why.

ramaphosa level 1

Photo: GovernmentZA / Flickr

South Africa has proved to be a world-leader when it comes to lockdown policy. Initially lauded for a swift entry in Level 5 restrictions, a prolonged period at Alert Level 4 soon followed, meaning that Mzansi had experienced one of the longest ‘hard lockdowns’ on the planet. But could Ramaphosa soon swing to Level 1?

Cyril Ramaphosa reveals Level 1 discussions

It would mark an exceptional turnaround for South Africa, despite many remaining fearful of COVID-19’s continued spread. The president is walking a nigh-on impossible tightrope, where the threat of both disease and economic hardships threaten the lives of millions. But on Sunday, Cyril hinted that a swift shift through the gears had been discussed by the scientists working alongside his administration:

“[The medical scientists who have been advising the National Coronavirus Command Council] also said once we went through Level 5 and Level 4, the lockdown has served its purpose. In fact, what they were also advising was that you could quite easily go to Level 1. We moved to Level 3 as a ‘middle road’ solution.”

Cyril Ramaphosa

John Steenhuisen puts pressure on the president

Now, these comments have set alarm bells ringing across South Africa. John Steenhuisen has reacted with particular ferocity, questioning why Ramaphosa felt the need to compromise, despite ‘following the science’. The DA leader has used this admission to push for the immediate implementation of a lighter lockdown:

“It is unconscionable that the ANC government opted to move South Africa to Level 3, even as some scientists advised a move to Level 1 and called lockdown a “blunt instrument”, in the words of President Ramaphosa himself. The ANC is using people’s lives and livelihoods as pawns in their internal chess games.”

“The appropriate response is to protect the high-risk group and let the vast majority of South Africans get back to work with an appropriate set of safety protocols in place, to produce the tax revenue necessary to fund health, education and social grants. Infections here have risen even with a hard lockdown.”

John Steenhuisen

Who else supports a move to Level 1 of lockdown?

As well as scientists and fellow politicians, the data analysts also believe that the next logical step South Africa should take is a move to Level 1. Nick Hudson, who represents Pandemic ~ Data and Analytics (PANDA), says that there is less risk in easing lockdown laws than previously believed.

“It has become abundantly clear in our country as in others that lifting lockdowns do not result in the feared resurgence of cases and deaths that the WHO and various modelling teams have predicted. In fact, 230 000 citizens have already been charged for contravening lockdown regulations, instilling a culture of lawlessness.”

“We urge the president not to risk further harm to the economy by opting for a gradual reduction to Level 2, but instead to reduce the lockdown to Level 1 as the next step. We trust the request will receive due consideration and would appreciate a possible date at which we can present our critical findings.”

Nick Hudson of PANDA

What Ramaphosa will have to consider

The decision ultimately rests with Cyril Ramaphosa and the NCCC, though. And, as we’ve learned during our last two transitions through lockdown, a wild flurry of debate amongst members of Cabinet often precedes the move into another lockdown level. Convincing ministers who are a little more conservative about relaxing certain measures promises to be a very difficult task.

It took just over five weeks to move from Level 5 to Level 4, with another five weeks before entering Level 3. Should the coronavirus infection rates remain stable, the case for moving to Level 1 at the earliest possible opportunity will be strengthened. But with a peak of the disease set for either late winter or September, the next move will have to be the most carefully-plotted one yet.