From Sunday 20th September at midnight, South Africa moves into Alert Level 1 of the lockdown.

How do you feel about moving down to Alert Level 1? Are you relieved or are you worried? Both of these responses are valid. It’s really good for our economy that things are picking up again but we still need to be aware that the coronavirus is out there and hasn’t gone away.

When the National State of Disaster was first declared in March 2020, Level 1 was described as, ‘Most normal activity can resume with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times. Population prepared for increase in alert levels if necessary.’

So far, South Africa’s official figures for the coronavirus is that COVID 19 has infected 653 44 people and 15 705 people have died. The unofficial figures are far higher than this. The health minister, Zweli Mkhize, says that it is possible that there are about 12 million or 20% of South Africans with detected or undetected coronavirus infections. That is one fifth of our population. Our death toll, too, might be much higher than the official statistics. The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has reported excess deaths of over 42 200 since May 2020, many of which may be related to COVID 19.

The other thing to keep in mind is that many countries in the world that had reduced infection levels and then lifted many of their restrictions have found themselves going through a second wave of infections. This means that certain countries, or areas within countries, have had to return to full or partial lockdown. This has happened in Melbourne, Australia and some areas in England. Some other countries, such as Bulgaria and Czech Republic, are seeing higher case numbers now than they had in their first wave.

This is a warning to us to remain careful about the way we deal with coronavirus now so that we can keep the possibility of a second wave to the minimum. Sadly, it doesn’t mean a return to life as we used to know it. President Ramaphosa said, ‘the country is not out of the woods yet.’ He says that we are still in the ‘midst of the deadly epidemic’ and that, ‘we cannot afford a resurgence of infections in this country. A second wave would be devastating to our country…’

So what does Alert Level 1 actually mean?

Does life go back to normal?
No, unfortunately not. We will be living with this virus for some time to come. We still need to follow the three most important health guidelines which are:
• Keep practising social distancing. Don’t stand closer to people than 1.5 metres.
• Wear a mask (over your nose and mouth) whenever you leave home.
Wash your hands with soup or sanitiser for 20 seconds after touching surfaces outside your home.

Can I visit my friends or go to church?
It depends. Social, religious, political and other gatherings are permitted but if you are in an inside venue, then you cannot exceed 50% of the capacity of the venue. For example, if a venue has space for 100 people, you may only have 50 people in the venue at one time. However, the highest number of people you can have in any venue, even if it is a huge indoor auditorium, is 250 people. If the venue is an outdoor one, then the maximum number of people allowed is 500.

What about going to a soccer match?
Existing restrictions remain in place for sporting events. This means that, although sporting events can take place, there will be no spectators.

Is the curfew still in place?
Yes, there is still a curfew but the hours have been shortened. You will need to be home from midnight until 04h00 every day.

Can I buy alcohol on the weekends?
Liquor stores are now open from 09h00 to 17h00 from Mondays to Fridays but not on Saturdays or Sundays.

Are more than 50 people allowed to attend funerals?
Yes, 100 people are now allowed to attend funerals but night vigils are still not allowed. Funeral gatherings are seen as posing a high risk for the spread of coronavirus so you need to be especially careful if you attend one.

Am I allowed to travel internationally?
Our international borders have been closed since the start of the lockdown in March. These borders will open on the 1 October for business, leisure and other travel. There will still be restrictions, though, because some countries may still have restrictions on South Africans travelling into their country and South Africa may restrict people who come from high risk coronavirus countries.

If you do want to travel internationally these are the new rules:
• You have to present a negative Covid-19 test result no older than 72 hours.
• You will have to have a coronavirus test if you show Covid-19 symptoms when you are screened at the airport.
• If necessary, you will need to go into compulsory quarantine at your own expense if the authorities think it is necessary.
• You will need to download the Covid Alert South Africa mobile app on your smartphone.
The only airports that will be operating will be: King Shaka in KZN, OR Tambo in Gauteng and Cape Town International in the Western Cape.

Do I have to return to work if I work for government?
All public servants will be issued circulars telling them of the measures that would enable people to return to work so that all areas of government can go back to full operations without delay.

The National State of Disaster has been extended to the 15th October.

Life has certainly not been easy in the last 6 months and it is a relief to know that some restrictions are being considerably reduced. But, as we open the country up to allow more movement of people, we are in danger of increasing the number of coronavirus cases. We need to remain vigilant for a little while longer by following the health guidelines. In this way we can hopefully avoid a second wave and another restrictive lockdown. None of us want to go back to that!