COVID-19: THE UPLIFTMENT OF SOME RESTRICTIONS: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR EMPLOYERS?
As uplifting as it may be that government has decided to uplift restrictions of the lock down, there is little to be excited about. Firstly, the lock down remains very much in place. Secondly, the reality is that the move from alert level 5 to alert level 4 is very limited. Thirdly, the move to alert level 4 is not universal across South Africa. Depending on risk factors, some parts of South Africa may remain on alert level 5 restrictions.
Whilst the full national lockdown imposed since 26 March 2020 has successfully limited the spread of the coronavirus, there are serious risks associated with lifting lockdown restrictions too soon, or in an unsystematic and disorderly manner. To mitigate the risks of reducing the lock down restrictions, government has adopted a staggered approach. According to Dr Zweli Mkhize restrictions on economic activity need to be adapted to epidemiological trends and may need to be relaxed and tightened in different periods depending on whether the relaxation of the lock down restrictions on the different geographical location increases, reduces or stabilizes the spread of Covid-19.
The mechanics of the present approach adopted by government seems to be the following.
- “If lockdown regulations are amended to allow some economic activity to resume, it is possible that the infection rate will accelerate and that the virus will resurge. In this scenario, it would be necessary to quickly revert to more stringent restrictions in order to arrest further transmission.
- An “alert system” with four to five levels would allow for flexibility and responsiveness and would reduce the need to amend regulations in future.
- At each level restrictions would be more or less severe, and sectors and companies would know what activity is permitted depending on the level imposed at any time.
- Government would be able to switch between levels with far greater speed and could use mass communications platforms (such as an SMS notification system) to signal this to the public.
- Different levels could be imposed in specific provinces and areas based on the risk of transmission.
- A gradual transition between alert levels can be implemented where necessary.
- Detailed health protocols should be imposed at all levels of alert.”
Alert Level Restriction
The alert level restrictions referred to are contained in regulations. There are currently 5 alert levels. Until 30 April 2020, South Africa remains on alert level 5. As of 1 May 2020, the intention is to move to alert level 4. Depending on a variety of factors, lock down restrictions could remain as it, get escalated or reduce. In other words, alert level 4 could be escalated to alert level 5.
Pertinently, not all economic activity will be allowed to operate, and economic activity permitted will depend on the restriction level. According to Dr Zweli, 3 criteria impacts government’s decision on which economic activity falls within the various levels. These criteria are:
- Risk of transmission (including the ease of implementing mitigation measures)
- Expected impact on the sector of continued lockdown (including prior vulnerability)
- Value of the sector to the economy (e.g. contribution to GDP, multiplier effects, export earnings).
Sectors that have a low risk of transmission will be prioritised. Conversely, sectors with a high risk of transmission should not be allowed to resume activity until this risk is reduced, regardless of the potential impact on their sector or their value to the economy.
Key Points for Employers on the Alert Level 4 Permissions and Restrictions
What Does Level 4 Mean?
Level 4 restrictions mean that there is a moderate to high risk of the spread of Covid-19, with low to moderate readiness to deal with an escalation. Level 4 restrictions are a slight easing of level 5 restrictions in some areas but also a tightening of restrictions in other areas. Under level 5 restrictions only services, operations and movement deemed essential were permitted. The level 4 restrictions supplement the services, operations and movements under level 5. If services, operations and movement is not clearly and specifically identified on level 4 permissions list, it should be regarded as not permitted. Given the circumstances under which the regulations are issued, the level of permissions and restrictions will no doubt be interpreted quite strictly by those enforcing it.
The full list of permissible conduct under level 4 restrictions can be found by clicking the following link: https://www.stateofthenation.gov.za.
In implementing level 4 restrictions, employers that are permitted to resume operations at the workplace must bear the following in mind to make the workplace Covid-19 ready:
- All COVID-19 health and safety protocols must be followed at all times, including observance of guidelines for social distancing, sanitation and hygiene, and use of appropriate personal protective equipment, like cloth face masks, as determined by the National Department of Health
- People may travel to perform and acquire services only where such services cannot be provided from the safety of one’s home
- Permitted level of employment must take into account the necessary social distancing guidelines as per the National Department of Health
- Employers must have a risk assessment and plan in place; conduct worker education and take protection measures, including monitoring compliance with health and safety protocols and actively identifying infections amongst staff
For more information of making the workplace Covid-19 ready visit: http://www.health.gov.za/index.php/outbreaks/145-corona-virus-outbreak/465-corona-virus-outbreak
Extent of Resumption of Work
The lock down remains in effect.
Whilst some sectors of the economy have been opened; work force capacity is still limited. The overriding principle remains that only workers performing essential or permitted work for the operations of the business and which cannot be done remotely (i.e. from home) should be permitted at the workplace.
This also means that there remains a large portion of the work force that are unable to tender their services. The implication of this is that employers will still be compelled to seek financial assistance to keep their business afloat and to pay salaries. Some employers may also continue to apply for the TERS benefit to help to pay employees that it can longer pay. Other employers may now have to consider the possibility of scaling down their operation or closing their businesses. This inevitably will mean retrenchments or alternatives to retrenchments. Employers will have to determine based on, amongst other things, future prospects of recovery and financial ability the best course of action under these circumstances.
The further difficulty that employers will face is that even though they may be permitted to open under level 4, it may not be economically feasible to do so. As not all sectors of the economy are open, it is likely that there will be interruptions in businesses receiving goods and services from suppliers who are not permitted to open or are opened under limited capacity; or their customers cannot purchase their goods or services due to the lock down.
Another difficulty for employers permitted to open is the limitation on capacity. Depending on the sector, at most, employers would be able to call back to work between 20% to 50% of its work force. This presents practical challenges of determining what portions of the work force to call back to work as well as how to phase in the work force in a Covid-19 ready workplace. In other words, employers are going to have to reimagine their operations running efficiently and effectively with significantly reduced staff.
Imposition of Curfew
No movement is permitted from 8pm to 5am.
The only exception is permit holders who need to travel from home to work and back again during these hours – this includes workers who live in one province and work in another province and travel between provinces on a daily basis (provided they are in possession of a permit).
THE CONTENTS OF THIS ARTICLE ARE FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. FOR LEGAL ADVICE PLEASE CONTACT OUR OFFICES.