PRETORIA, South Africa – Government is expected to review some of South Africa’s lockdown regulations when the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) meets on Tuesday (11 August), with early signs pointing to a relaxation in rules.

OgeneAfrican reports that president Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to address the nation no later than Saturday, when the state of disaster is also due to expire.

The paper spoke to a number of experts which indicated that the pandemic has passed its peak in major provinces such as Gauteng, the Western Cape, and the Eastern Cape.

However, the head of government’s health advisory committee, professor Salim Abdool Karim has said he is concerned about KwaZulu-Natal, which still has a dangerous infection rate.

“If the epidemic really takes off in KZN like what we saw in Gauteng, the number of cases is going to start going up,” he told the Sunday Times. “Everything is dependent on what happens in KZN this week.”

On Thursday (6 August), health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said president Ramaphosa had asked him and his team to table recommendations before the NCCC on the next best steps going forward.

“So, we will be tabling recommendations to the NCCC. At some point during the course of next week, we should be able to get further guidance from the NCCC and the president,” he said.

Mkhize said that he is cautiously optimistic about coronavirus cases in South Africa having passed its peak, following a decline in reported numbers in recent days.

“Whilst we are cautiously optimistic, it is still too early for us to make definite conclusions regarding the observed decline,” Mkhize said.

“We need to continue to track all these indicators and ensure that our testing capacity reflects a realist picture of our epidemiological status. We will therefore only know for sure when there is a consistent decline over a period.”

Dr Mkhize announced on Saturday that there are now a total of 553,188 cases of coronavirus in South Africa. This is an increase of 7,712 cases from the 545,476 infections reported previously, and following 36,607 tests conducted over the reported period.

Alcohol and cigarettes

While the prohibition on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes is likely to be considered by the government, Mkhize warned this week that the ban has not yet served its purpose.

The health minister said that there were clear health benefits to introducing and continuing with the bans – including the freeing up of hospital beds.

“Our focus as the health department is about the health of the nation. Therefore, where we think that certain practices will compromise the health of our people, we will not hesitate to stand on the side of health.

“When we deal with these issues, we take a view based on the situation on the ground – and when things change, and we think it will be safe to ease off on things, we will certainly do that.”

Speaking specifically on the suspension of alcohol sales, Mkhize said that statistics clearly show that alcohol-related trauma cases had led to an increase in hospital cases and a loss of beds.

He added that more work is still needed to be done before alcohol and cigarette sales are allowed again.

“Everything else will open up when the numbers settle down. We shouldn’t really be dealing with it as though there is a contest. We are not contesting anything.

“We just want to make it clear that if something is going to disturb the ease with which we are managing beds, patient numbers, and improving care, we will actually stand up and say that these things should be avoided until we are over the hump.”