South Africa’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic

South Africa’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic

03 Jul 2020

Since midnight on Thursday, 26 March 2020, South Africa has been in lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa first addressed the nation on COVID-19 on 15 March, declaring a national state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act. He announced that government is taking ‘urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease, protect the people of our country and reduce the impact of the virus on our society and on our economy’.

In his second address, on 23 March, the President announced a national lockdown, initially for 21 days, and outlined more stringent interventions in a comprehensive plan to limit transmission of the virus and to mitigate its economic and social impact.

South Africa’s economic response can be divided into three phases:

  1. The first phase began in mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic was declared as a national disaster. This included a broad range of measures to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic on businesses, on communities and on individuals. The measures included tax relief, the release of disaster relief funds, emergency procurement, wage support through the UIF and funding to small businesses.

  2. The second phase of the economic response was aimed at stabilising the economy, addressing the extreme decline in supply and demand and protecting jobs. On 21 April, the President announced that a social and economic support package of R500 billion had been finalised, amounting to approximately 10% of GDP. The three areas of focus are (i) redirecting resources to fund the health response to coronavirus; (ii) providing direct support to households and individuals for the relief of hunger and social distress; and (iii) providing assistance to companies in distress and seeks to protect jobs by supporting workers’ wages. 

  3. The third phase is an economic strategy aimed at driving the recovery of the economy as the country emerges from this pandemic. Central to the economic recovery strategy will be measures to stimulate demand and supply through interventions such as a substantial infrastructure build programme, the speedy implementation of economic reforms, and other steps that will ignite inclusive economic growth.

Government’s goal is to steadily increase economic activity while putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of the virus and provide adequate care for those who become infected and need treatment. As part of this approach, there will be five Coronavirus Alert Levels, in line with a risk-adjusted strategy which seeks to slow down the rate of infection and flatten the curve:

pdf Risk Adjusted Strategy: Schedule of Services - Draft Framework, 25 April 2020 (320 KB)

  • Level 5: drastic measures are required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives.

  • Level 4: some activity can be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks - effective 1 May 2020

  • Level 3: easing of some restrictions, including on work and social activities, to address a high risk of transmission - effective 1 June 2020

  • Level 2: further easing of restrictions, but the maintenance of physical distancing and restrictions on some leisure and social activities to prevent a resurgence of the virus - effective 18 August 2020

  • Level 1: most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times. 

The phased reopening of the economy began on 1 May 2020. In his address to the nation on 15 August, President Ramaphosa indicated that South Africa will move to Alert Level 2 with effect from midnight on Monday, 17 August 2020:

“Alert Level 2 in terms of our risk adjusted strategy in dealing with the pandemic means that there is a moderate Covid19 spread of the virus with a relatively high health system readiness. The move to level 2 means that we can remove nearly all of the restrictions on the resumption of economic activity across most industries. Economic activity will be allowed with the necessary and appropriate stringent health protocols and safety precautions in place.”

In his address to the nation on 17 June 2020, the President announced a new initiative being pursued across the continent – the Africa Medical Supplies Portal. This is a single continental marketplace where African countries can access critical medical supplies, such as test kits, from suppliers and manufacturers in Africa and around the world in the necessary quantities and at competitive prices. This platform will complement the work that is being done to ensure that sufficient medical equipment, personal protective equipment and hospital facilities are available to manage the anticipated increase in COVID-19 patients.

tralac Resources


Governance in abnormal times – dealing with COVID-19: A regional perspective from South Africa

Working Paper by Gerhard Erasmus and Trudi Hartzenberg (tralac) - 13 May 2020

South Africa’s trade for March 2020 – significant trade surplus shows the initial impact of COVID-19 on imports

Blog by Willemien Viljoen (tralac) - 13 May 2020

South African tourism and the coronavirus pandemic

Blog by David Christianson - 28 Apr 2020

Impact of COVID-19 on poultry production – view from a woman entrepreneur

Blog by Motlatsi Tolo (Raseto Agricultural Enterprise) - 7 Apr 2020

Trade restrictions – what is essential cargo?

Blog by Terry Gale (Exporters Club Western Cape) - 7 Apr 2020

Coronavirus, food supply and demand constraints: panic-buying and logistics

Blog by Willemien Viljoen (tralac) - 31 Mar 2020

South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Blog by Trudi Hartzenberg (tralac) - 26 Mar 2020

COVID19-related export control measures – has South Africa adopted the same yet?

Blog by Talkmore Chidede (tralac) - 20 Mar 2020

Official statements

Policy regulations and economic measures to address COVID-19


Government and the dtic have prioritised 9 key interventions, including: 1. Economic impact assessment and measures to mitigate; 2. Supporting health measures: essential health and PPE stocks; 3. Food and hygiene product supply-lines: from farm to shop; 4. Solidarity and social protection measures to assist the vulnerable; 5. Regulatory support to facilitate cooperation and keeping firms in business; 6. Protecting consumers: Action against unfair price rises; 7. Global coordination and engagement; 8. Reopening the economy and reconstruction; and 9. Internal dtic processes to manage outbreaks amongst staff (dtic Parliamentary Presentation, 19 August 2020)