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Gauteng will move to Level 3 in June, says premier — but tough road still ahead

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 5 days ago Chanel Retief and Ayanda Mthethwa
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David Makhura says he wants the province to move to Level 3 ‘in a cautious way, balancing health and economic imperatives’.

At the Gauteng legislature’s first “virtual” House sitting on Tuesday, 19 May, Premier David Makhura announced that the province was ready to move from lockdown Level 4 to Level 3 at the beginning of June. Makhura stressed, however, that even though the province had “effectively” found a way to no longer be the country’s epicentre of Covid-19, the road ahead would still be a “tough and painful” in mitigating the spread of the virus.

“This is the first time we meet since our country entered a very difficult period,”  Makhura said to members of the legislature at the province’s first sitting of the House since the national lockdown was instituted to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Makhura, who was answering questions in the House, said: “Our province has been able to slow down transmission effectively.” He added that Gauteng had moved from being the national epicentre of Covid-19 with 50% of confirmed cases in March to 15% of confirmed cases in May. 

“We have the highest recovery rate with more than 70% recoveries coming from our province and we have a 1.1% mortality rate.”  

Makhura said that Gauteng has done the most tests in South Africa, with 33% of testing coming from Gauteng.

“Four million people have been screened in Gauteng,” Makhura said. “We continue to be a province that has tested the largest number of people but, of course, the Western Cape has tested more per capita, but we have the largest number of tests done in the republic.”

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Makhura stated it was time for the province to move to Level 3 which he says is to happen at the beginning of June. 

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced on Monday 18 May that there were now 16,433 confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa, with 2,343 of those cases in Gauteng. There have been 286 deaths from the pandemic in South Africa.

Makhura said he wanted to see Gauteng go to Level 3 as one unit and not in a “disjointed way”.

“We can’t have one municipality at Level 4 and another one at Level 3 and another one at Level 2... We are going to Level 3 together,” he said. 

“We can’t stay at Level 4 for too long because too many people don’t have the means to support themselves,” Makhura said. 

He would be sitting down with various sectors of the economy on Wednesday 20 May to discuss the province moving to Level 3. 

“We want to move to Level 3 in a cautious way, balancing health and economic imperatives,” he said, adding that there would be a greater focus on townships during the start of Level 3 as “Covid-19 spreads through cluster infections”. 

“In the suburbs, we now have more recoveries and fewer active cases, with newer confirmed cases in our townships,” Makhura said.

While Makhura seemed confident in his assessment of how Gauteng had handled the pandemic, he warned the Gauteng government not to get too complacent as the “peak” of the virus was still to come.

“While confident, we must not think it’s done and dusted. I want to say to this House, as the provincial government, we are working with municipalities and various agencies. We are ready for the worst of times and will continue building capacity,” Makhura stated.

“We still have to climb the mountain of the peak. The peak is ahead of us, it may come in July or August or September. Various models suggest that it is coming.” 

Makhura’s address marked the official launch of Gauteng’s Digital Legislature which will see committees and the legislature meet virtually, to “ensure that the business of the legislature remains in full force”.

Meanwhile, the City of Johannesburg said it was gearing up to move the business of its council online amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The metropolitan council, with 270 members, is the largest in the country and held its first mockup sitting – an orientation session meant to assist council members to adjust to the new setup – on Monday 18 May, but connectivity issues persisted for some members who reside in remote areas. 

“We met yesterday virtually for our first attempt, but there were those councillors who could not connect because some live in areas that have no connectivity, but at least now we know how to assist them,” speaker Nonceba Molwele told Daily Maverick

The city has identified regional offices that will host councillors who encountered connectivity setbacks during Monday’s mockup virtual sitting. 

Molwele said the department of health had tested staff members and councillors in the past week for the coronavirus, and none of the tests came back positive. 

She added that councillors who will be working from the regional offices should expect to be screened on a daily basis. 

Although connectivity issues are the major challenges in virtual or remote meetings, technological aptitude seems to weaken with the age of the user, as also noted by the speaker. 

“Some of us were born before technology, so we also need time to get our members accustomed to using technology”. 

Parliament was first to resume its business a few weeks after the nationwide lockdown came into effect. Prior to resuming with remote meetings, members continued to work in their respective communities. 

Besides a few hacks, Parliament has successfully hosted a number of virtual committee meetings. 

The Western Cape Legislature swiftly followed suit and has also managed to resume its oversight work and meetings in the province. 

Molwele said the council will hold another mockup sitting on Thursday 21 May, with the first actual sitting scheduled for next week on Wednesday 27 May. 

“Committees will also start having their oversight committee meetings so that they report back to the public about their oversight work and whether the executive also plays its part.” DM

Social distancing mistakes that put you at risk for coronavirus (Supplied by ETNT Health) 

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