On Sunday, 12 July 2020, President Ramaphosa addressed the nation for the fifth time since the country was placed under national lockdown on 26 March 2020. His address did not declare an escalation of the alert level currently in place, as widely expected, but rather confirmed that whilst the Alert Level 3 Regulations would, for now, remain in force, that these Regulations would be further limited and refined in certain respects. The increase in the degree of restriction under the Level 3 Regulations was justified by the President as being necessary to curb the impending storm predicted early on by experts advising government (being the rapid rise in infections since a softening of the Regulations on 01 June 2020) and, more specifically, to curb the deluge in new trauma and personal injury cases currently flooding into hospitals and medical facilities country-wide as a perceived result of the recent lifting of the ban on alcohol distribution and sales.

Following the President’s address, amendments to the current Alert Level 3 Regulations (“the Regulations”) were published on 12 July 2020. We discuss the most relevant of these amendments below.

Please note that this article should to be construed as an opinion on the reasonableness, or not, of the amended Regulations and serves only to discuss the amendments as they stand and their impact on the relevant portions of society.

The relevant amendments to the alert Level 3 Regulations are as follows:

  1. Any declaration of a specific geographical area, or cluster of areas, as COVID-19 “hotspots”, has been deleted and removed.

 

  1. The Regulations surrounding the wearing of protective face masks have been bolstered and reassert the fact that every person present in a public space must cover their face and mouth with either a cloth face mask, a homemade item serving a similar purpose or any other appropriate item (collectively referred to herein as “face masks”). The amendments go further though, and require that no person will be allowed to (i) use, or operate, or perform any service on, any form of public transport, (ii) enter a public place or business to obtain goods or services, or to (ii) be in any open public space, without wearing a face mask.

 

  1. The amendments seek to enforce the wearing of face masks further by introducing potential criminal sanctions on the following categories of persons for failing to adhere to the required level of preventative action:

 

  • the driver or operator of any form of public transport who fails to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the contents of paragraph 2 above;
  • a manager or owner of a building, place or premises, including government buildings or premises, used by the public to obtain goods or services, who fails to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the contents of paragraph 2 above;
  • an employer who fails to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the contents of paragraph 2 above; and
  • a principal of a school, or a manager or owner of an early childhood development center, who fails to take steps to ensure compliance with the contents of paragraph 2 above.

 

  1. The obligation to don a face mask when present in a public space has been relaxed in respect of those undertaking “vigorous exercise” in such public spaces, on condition that the person maintains a distance of at least 3 meters from any other person. What constitutes “vigorous” exercise is for the moment unclear, and the amended Regulations confirm that further guidelines dealing with what forms of exercise will fall under the term “vigorous” will be published by the Minister of Health shortly.

 

  1. The further effect of this amendment is to allow persons to attend public parks, which was banned in previous versions of the Regulations, but only in the circumstances where this is done for exercise purposes and whilst strict adherence to health and social distancing protocols is practiced. Regrettably for many, beaches remain off-limits to the public.

 

  1. The amendments also reintroduce the much-maligned curfew of the Level 4 Regulations but restrict the period of application of the curfew to the hours between 21h00 and 04h00. Accordingly, no one may leave their place of residence between these hours other than in the circumstances where a person is in possession of a valid permit allowing them to do so. Such permit will only be issued if the person intends to perform an essential service permitted under Alert Level 3, or where that person is attending to a security or medical emergency.

 

  1. Attendances at private and public auctions are now allowed, provided that the attendees adhere strictly to the relevant health and safety protocols and social distancing measures, and further provided that the attendees at the auction do not exceed 50 in number.

 

  1. What will no doubt be the most controversial amendment to the Alert Level 3 Regulations is the government’s reversal of the recently lifted ban on the sale and distribution of alcohol. This ban has been re-imposed and the distribution of alcohol will now only be allowed in circumstances where this conducted for the purposes of transporting alcohol required by (i) industries in the business of producing hand sanitizers, disinfectants, soap and so forth, (ii) for the purposes of the export of alcohol products or (iii) the transportation of alcohol from manufacturing plants to storage facilities. The reasons behind the reinstatement of the ban were slated as being related to the immense increase of alcohol related injury and trauma cases which, in the opinion of government, would add to the already substantial pressure placed on hospitals and medical facilities by the spread of the pandemic.

 

  1. The ban on the local sale of tobacco products remains firmly in place but the Alert Level 3 Regulations have been relaxed so as to permit the sale of tobacco from local farmers to local processors to local manufacturers, and vice versa.

 

  1. Family visits and general socializing remains prohibited.

 

  1. The national state of disaster declared by the President in March 2020 has been extended to 15 August 2020.

 

Should any reader or client wish for us to furnish them with more detailed advice on the application or interpretation of the amended Alert Level 3 Regulations, or further should any reader or client wish for a more detailed explanation of any specific amendment mentioned, please do not hesitate to  engage with us and one of our attorneys will happily assist.

For further practical guidance on the application of the amended Regulations please attend our regular COVID-19 Webinars, the details of which are regularly updated on our website.