Life as we know it has changed — and South Africans have to change with it.
Hugging, kissing and shaking hands are “a thing of the past” and workplaces, schools, university and other public spaces will have to be redesigned. Religious worship will have to change. And, of course, face masks have to become the norm.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said this on Wednesday night as he addressed SA on the status of the country’s fight against Covid-19 and the reopening of the economy.
Ramaphosa said SA was ready for eased lockdown restrictions and most of the country would therefore move to level 3 from the end of May, adding that eased level 4 restrictions would be announced in the coming days.
But, the president warned, these eased restrictions were not a free-for-all, and that the battle against the coronavirus would only be won if South Africans realised that everything had fundamentally changed.
“This new phase will require each of us to change our own behaviour in profound ways. There needs to be a fundamental shift in our thinking and our way of life. We need to take personal responsibility for our own health and the health of others,” he said.
He said although the lockdown was successful in slowing the rate of coronavirus transmission — there would have been eight times as many deaths and 80,000 total infections had the lockdown not been in place, he said — the virus would be present “for a long time to come”.
“We have been warned that infections will inevitably rise as the lockdown measures are eased, as has happened in many countries. We also know that the coronavirus will continue to be a global health threat for some time to come, and that the fight against Covid-19 needs to become part of our daily lives,” he said.
“Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we make in our behaviour, by the changes we make in how we move around, by the changes we make in our personal interactions.”
He said that it should be expected that when you go to a mall, there will be someone sanitising hands at the entrance.
“Hugging and shaking of hands and kissing is a thing of the past. As restrictions are eased, we will need to observe social distancing even more carefully. Yes, wear our face masks whenever we leave home, wash hands regularly with soap and water or sanitiser and avoid contact with other people.
“I’ve been encouraged that so many people are wearing face masks in public since the start of alert 4. I went walking this [Wednesday] morning and the many people that I saw in the street were wearing their face masks. And it was then that I really realised that South Africans have taken the message of wearing face masks seriously. I was really encouraged.
“We will need to reorganise workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public places to limit transmission. We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and also of meetings, and this will minimise opportunities for the virus
“It is our actions now that will determine whether the advantage we gained through the lockdown can be sustained. It is our actions now — individually and together — that will determine whether the great sacrifices that people have made over these last two months will ultimately save the lives of thousands of South Africans and spare our country from the huge devastation that this pandemic can cause.”
Ramaphosa reiterated that the loosening of restrictions means infections are likely to increase.
“The transition to the next phase of the coronavirus response will in many ways be more difficult than the present one. The risk of infection outbreaks will increase as more people return to work. This calls for vigilance, responsibility and discipline from all of us.”