Breakdown: Essential services during the lockdown

Earlier this week, the President announced a 21 days lockdown which took effect at midnight on Thursday 26 March, as part of measures to control and limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Here is what you can do during the lockdown

  • Seek Medical care
  • Buy groceries
  • Go to the pharmacy
  • Access banking services
  • Buy Fuel
  • Collect social grants

All healthcare services, both public and private, including pharmacies, clinics and hospitals will be in full operation with limited access to the number of patients per consultation/visit. Emergency response services such as fire fighters, paramedic services, call centres providing life and health services will be available during the lockdown period. Safety and security services will provide protection to people and property. This includes SAPS, traffic police, correctional officers, private security and the SANDF. Communication and media services will continue to be available with print, broadcast and online as platforms for information dissemination. The public broadcaster will provide messaging and learning on all radio and television channels in all languages. For emergency support during this time, contact the Corona Support Line on WhatsApp: 0600 123 456 or 0800 029 999 for emergency support.

During the lockdown, the collection of social grants will continue. Grants for pensioners and people with disabilities are to be paid on 30 and 31 March 2020, while other recipients will receive their grants on 1 April 2020. Access to cash collection points will be limited as a measure to combat the spread of the CoVid-19 virus. SASSA offices will be closed during the lockdown and no new grants applications will be processed. Any issues will be dealt with telephonically via the SASSA helpline: 080 002 999. Recipients are urged to limit the withdrawal of funds and rather swipe or tap their SASSA cards at major supermarkets. More information on how grant services will operate during the lockdown is available here. In terms of social services, orphanages, old age homes and shelters will all remain operational and will continue to be serviced, but no visits will be allowed. A total of 235 food banks will be responsible for feeding those in need countrywide, with food to be delivered to the homes of those in need. Support is also available for women and children who are victims of abuse or gender-based violence during lockdown, accessible through the GBV Centre: 0800 428 428 via Skype: HELPMEGBV or on cell phones: *120*787#.

Load shedding, a constant feature in the lives of million in the country since the beginning of the year, has been halted for the time being. Eskom says that residents can expect stable power supply with no load shedding. In line with other essential services that will continue to operate, Eskom says that its staff and service providers are essential for the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity and will continue to operate. Water, sewerage and sanitation services are also to operate normally. Due to the lockdown, the public health management program will be providing emergency water supplies – using water storage tanks, water tankers, boreholes, and communal standpipes – to informal settlements and rural areas. However should there be water disruptions, the public can call this number: 0800 200 200. Information regarding the collection of refuse by municipalities during designated times for each community will be communicated in due course by each municipal authority.

Public transport services will be limited during the lockdown. Some public transport will be available to cater for essential workers, such as nurses, municipal officials, legal staff and others. There are regulations covering this however, such as reduced load; mini bus taxis may only carry 50% of their usual load. Interprovincial and long distance services have also been prohibited.

Food outlets such as major wholesale stores and retailers will remain open. Access to these stores will be limited to 50 customers per store at any given time. Only spaza shops with a municipal license will be allowed to operate, catering to the immediate needs of smaller communities. The department of Trade and Industry has also deemed 22 products “critical” during the current lockdown. These products are therefore subject to monitoring for price hikes by the National Consumer Commission and the Competition Commission. Basic food items such as rice, maize meal, milk, canned vegetables and meats, along with personal care products like toilet paper, baby formula and nappies. Hygiene products like disinfectant, hand sanitiser, and cleaning agents; and key medical supplies such as surgical masks and gloves have also been declared critical. Consumers are therefore encouraged to report any unnecessary price increases of any of these products to the National Consumer Commission’s toll-free hotline 0800-014-880 or via their Twitter.

All major banks will operate, with limited access. Clients are encouraged to make use of online services and limit the use of ATMs during the lockdown period. Further details on each banks’ operational times and other relevant info is available on the webpages of each bank.

To ensure that the restrictions on gatherings, movement and trade put in place to minimise the spread of the virus are adhered to, there will be an increased visibility of the South African Police Services during the lockdown. SAPS will be supported by the South African National Defence Force in this operation. SANDF has the power to detain anybody suspected of breaking the law but this person must be handed over to SAPS as soon as possible. SANDF has no additional legal powers at this time since only a national state of disaster has been declared, and not a state of emergency.

The government has also made provisions for people and businesses that will be impacted by the 21-day lock down due to the CoVid-19 outbreak. Unemployment Insurance fund will be available to workers in the formal business sector. A new national disaster benefit has been introduced. Benefits will be paid for whatever period is shorter; the amount of time a company has been shut down, or three months. After three months, the usual UIF provisions apply, on a sliding scale over 12 months. Benefits will be calculated on a scale and will not be less than the R3500 minimum wage. To make use of the national disaster benefit, applications must be processed through the employer. This is a new “benefit” within the UIF structure that will not draw from employee contributions to the UIF, in the case of employers and employees who pay contributions. Therefore if an employer cannot pay their employees during this period, they can apply for the National Disaster Benefit from the UIF. More information on the application process is available here, and the requisite forms can be downloaded here. Private sector employees earning R6500 or less will receive a tax subsidy of R500 for the next four months.

Update: Week 1

Amendments have been made to the initial regulations put in place to manage the lockdown period. Of significance is the announcement by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma that cross provincial and city travel is allowed for people wishing to attend the funeral services of loved ones. However, only specific people, in relation to the deceased, can attend the funeral. Travel for funeral purposes requires a permit obtainable from a Magistrate who is the head of office or a station commander of a police station or a person designated by him or her. Applications for such permits require the applicant to provide an original or copy of a death certificate as well as “form 2“. Successful applicants are allowed to remain in the location of a funeral for only 48 hours and may not stay with relatives or friends. They may stay at a hotel, lodge or guesthouse and must present a copy of the permit to the manager of the hotel, lodge or guesthouse. The maximum amount of people permitted to attend a funeral remains 50.

All spaza shops are now permitted to operate, serving smaller communities that may not have immediate access to larger shopping centres. This is also a measure to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus to large groups of people, typical of shopping centers or supermarkets. In addition, informal traders have been given the green light to operate, but must obtain a permit from their municipality or a local Councillor.

All commuter transport services remain prohibited except for the transportation of essential services workers. Taxi loading capacity has been increased from 50% to 70%, provided passengers wear masks. Public transport operators have also been permitted to carry essential services workers from 5am to 10am and from 4pm to 8pm. More details on private motor vehicles and e-hailing services regulations are available here.

There have been reports of rights abuses by the SAPS, Metro Police and SANDF. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is currently investigating 21 complaints received since the start of the lockdown. IPID investigates cases of:

  1. Death in police custody
  2. Death as a result of police action
  3. Discharge of official firearm by any police officer
  4. Rape by police officer
  5. Rape of any person while in police custody
  6. Torture or assault by police

IPID offices are closed during the lockdown. The office has made standby investigators available in each province. Contact details for each province are available here. Rights abuses and other issues concerning SANDF are overseen by the military ombudsman. The ombudsman’s contact details are obtainable here or here. Legal representation for anyone whose rights have been abused or someone who has witnessed rights abuse is available via the public interest law organisations hotline.

We will continue to update this article with more information as it becomes available. Stay safe, stay home.