Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: AFP/PHILL MAGAKOE
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: AFP/PHILL MAGAKOE

The government will move the entire country to alert level 3 on June 1 but may return specific areas to higher levels if Covid-19 infection rates fail to be contained, health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday.

These areas could be wards, clusters of wards, sub-districts, districts or even entire metropolitan areas, he said.

His comments create great uncertainty for businesses and individuals alike, as they raise the possibility that different parts of cities or provinces could be on different alert levels, posing significant practical challenges.

The minister said moving regions to higher alert levels "will be done rapidly and in an effort to contain and manage the spread, and also to ensure that our health facilities are not overwhelmed by the rapid rise of positive cases in that area".

"This therefore means that as the whole country moves to level 3, there will be a constant assessment of each and every area and its rate of infection."

He did not elaborate on the process the government would use to determine whether to move an area onto a higher alert level; how frequently such assessments would be made; or whether there would be any changes to the current level4 and 5 regulations to accommodate people’s need to earn a living.

The various alert levels permit different levels of economic activity, with only essential services workers permitted to leave home under level 5 restrictions.

Mistake

The minister said his presentation to the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday, which contained a slide indicating SA’s hotspots were to remain on level 4, was an error.

A similar slide was contained in a presentation tabled by co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who also addressed the virtual meeting.

Mkhize later told parliament the hardest-hit regions were the metros of Cape Town, Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay.

By May 22, Cape Town had 117.2 cases per 100,000 population, Buffalo City had 43.5 cases per 100,000 population and Nelson Mandela Bay had 26.1 cases per 100,000.

Mkhize said the government was stepping up its health interventions in these areas, deploying experts and extra medical personnel, including the Cuban doctors and staff from the military.

Business for SA’s Martin Kingston welcomed the minister’s clarification of the outdated slide, saying it had caused "extreme concern".

The practical ramifications of different alert levels across the country needed to be discussed with the government, as such measures could have a fundamental effect on the movement of people and goods.

It was also important that the regulations for alert level 3, which have yet to be published, were clear, consistent and implementable, he said.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde welcomed Mkhize’s statement correcting the slide.

"It definitely created confusion because it was the opposite to what the president said," he said, referring to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national address on Sunday evening.

At the time, the president said the entire country would move to alert level 3 on June 1.

Winde cautioned against implementing different alert levels in different regions, saying it would create pandemonium.

"We need to balance the health response with the economic and humanitarian response … in a way that keeps the growth of the virus within the confines of the projected curve so our health response is able to deal with the number of people coming for health care."

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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