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


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

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

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: removes many of the remaining restrictions on economic activity, although it may be some time before it is safe for all sectors to return to full operation - effective 21 September 2020

The phased reopening of the economy began on 1 May 2020. In his address to the nation on 15 September, President Ramaphosa indicated that South Africa will move to Alert Level 1 with effect from midnight on Sunday, 20 September 2020. The national state of disaster was extended until 15 October 2020.

Re-opening of the borders and ports of entry for international travellers

On 1 October 2020, South African borders were opened for business and leisure travel for international traveller’s subject to a number of restrictions for travellers. These restrictions included that all travellers visiting the country will be expected to abide by the regulations which include mandatory wearing of masks at all times, practising social distancing in public spaces, regular washing or sanitizing of hands and presenting a negative COVID-19 test result not older than 72 hours from the time of departure. Upon arrival in the port of entry, the traveller will be screened for any COVID-19 symptoms or for contact with people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus.

South Africa has developed a risk categorisation model for different international travellers. This model classifies international travellers according to a scale of high, medium and low risk. High risk travellers are those who come from countries with higher numbers of COVID-19 infections and reported deaths compared to South Africa.

  • Re-opening of airports for travel by air: Three airports will be opened and operational for international air travel. These airports are OR Tambo International (in Johannesburg, Gauteng), Cape Town International (in Cape Town, Western Cape) and King Shaka International in (Durban, KwaZulu-Natal). The restrictions indicated above apply.

  • Travellers from African countries: To facilitate free movements of people, goods and services from South Africa, SADC and the African continent, travellers from the neighbouring countries are allowed to visit our country. Travellers from all African countries are allowed and must possess relevant travel documents, and will also be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.

  • Sea ports operations: To facilitate ease of transportation of goods and medicines to and from the country, ships will be allowed to dock, load and off-load cargo. Crew members from the cargo ships will be allowed to crew changes. These crew members will also be medically screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Passenger liners for luxury travel are still not allowed to dock and off-load passengers.

Africa Medical Supplies Portal

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)


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