Al Jazeera English South Africa
Ramaphosa: South Africa coronavirus lockdown to ease from June 1 - Al Jazeera English
Country moved into level three of a five-tier system, allowing reopening of economy under 'strict health protocols'.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a further easing of coronavirus restrictions from next month in a move that will allow most sectors of the economy to reopen fully under "strict health protocols" and "social distancing rules". Ramaphosa said in a televised address on Sunday the cabinet has decided to move the country to "level three" of its five-level approach to easing the coronavirus lockdown from June 1. More: "This will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people while significantly expanding ... our public health interventions," said the president, who has been under pressure from rival political parties and a variety of industries to relax the curbs. Africa's most industrialised economy has been largely shut down since late March when the government enforced some of the world's strictest restrictions in an attempt to try and stem the spread of the coronavirus which has so far infected 22,583 people and killed 429 in the country. Ramaphosa initially enjoyed broad support for the lockdown, which confined most people to their homes aside from essential trips. But that has since given way to concerns about the measures' effect on an already shrinking economy and on a mostly poor population.
Moeketsi Majoro sworn in as Lesotho's new prime minister - Al Jazeera English
Thomas Thabane's succesor vows to usher in 'new version' of leadership and 'bring back trust to the government'.
Moeketsi Majoro has been sworn in as Lesotho's prime minister following the resignation of his embattled predecessor, Thomas Thabane. Thabane's decision to step down on Tuesday came amid mounting pressure over a case in which he and his current wife are suspected of involvement in the 2017 murder of his estranged wife. They both deny this. More: The move cleared the way for Majoro, a seasoned economist and Lesotho's former finance minister, to take the reins. Thabane attended Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony at the royal palace of King Letsie III, handing his successor a copy of the constitution to formally signal the transfer of power. The men tapped elbows instead of shaking hands, and Majoro wore a face mask as a precaution against coronavirus. "I will be a true and faithful prime minister, so help me God," said Majoro, who previously worked as an executive director at the International Monetary Fund. Thabane's former wife, Lipolelo Thabane, was murdered in 2017, just two days before he took office. The couple were in the midst of a divorce when she was shot outside her home, sending shockwaves through the tiny mountainous kingdom. Two months later, he married his current wife Maesaiah Thabane, 43, who is considered a co-conspirator to the killing. She has been charged with murder and is out on bail. Maesaiah Thabane was absent from Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony, where her husband apologised for shortcomings during his nearly three years in office, his second stint as prime minister. "In as much as I tried my level best to serve His Majesty and Basotho [people] with dedication and loyalty ... I may have inadvertently erred in several ways during my tenure as prime minister. "Consequently, I sincerely wish to ask you to forgive me for my mistakes," said Thabane. His election in 2017 had brought hopes of stability to Lesotho, which has a long history of political turmoil. Thabane's own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, opposition figures and South African mediators had pressured him to quit, but he had resisted, supported by an inner circle of loyalists. "It is going to be very difficult for (Majoro) ... to unify the ABC because its members are still disgruntled and are going to fight," independent analyst Lefu Thaela said. Majoro, who has also served as planning minister, is seen as a technocrat, better at analysing economic data than soothing tensions between rival political factions. "He has been part of the warring sides himself," Limpho Tau, leader of the Democratic Congress party, told Reuters. "It is not going to be easy to satisfy everyone." Majoro, who was first appointed into cabinet by Thabane in 2013, promised on Wednesday to usher in "a new version" of leadership and "bring back their (people's) trust to the government". He also promised to make tackling COVID-19 - Lesotho has recorded one case so far - poverty, and unemployment his main priorities. Majoro will serve out Thabane's remaining term before the next round of elections in 2022. "We don't have much time on our side. We only have two years left before the elections, yet there is a lot of work ahead of us. "Fifty-four years after independence, the scourge of hunger and poverty is a serious issue in this country, and we need to deal with this issue decisively," he said.
Lesotho becomes last African country to record coronavirus case - Al Jazeera English
The high-altitude kingdom surrounded by South Africa confirms first case: a national studying in Saudi Arabia.
The southern African country of Lesotho has recorded its first coronavirus case, its health ministry has said, becoming the last nation on the continent to confirm an infection. The ministry on Wednesday said it conducted 81 coronavirus tests on travellers from neighbouring South Africa and Saudi Arabia, of which one was positive, while the results of 301 other tests are awaited. More: "The Ministry of Health informs the Basotho nation and the entire community living in Lesotho, that the country now has the first confirmed case of COVID-19," Director General Dr Nyane Letsie said. The patient is a Lesotho national studying in Saudi Arabia. The high-altitude kingdom of more than two million citizens is surrounded by its bigger, more industrialised neighbour, South Africa. Lesotho went into lockdown on March 29 to protect itself from a potential spread of the virus from South Africa, which has recorded more than 10,000 cases - the highest in the African continent. Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane loosened the restrictions on May 6 allowing "all non-essential services and enterprises" to "temporarily open shop". Africa has confirmed close to 70,000 COVID-19 cases, including 2,421 deaths and 23,857 recoveries, according to a Reuters news agency's tally based on government statements and the WHO data. Nearly 4.3 million people across the globe have been infected since the virus appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year. More than 293,500 people have died. The disease has struck at a time of political uncertainty in Lesotho, with Thabane due to step down by the end of the next week after his coalition collapsed in parliament. His exit would clear the way for a solution to a political crisis that erupted late last year, when he and his current wife were accused by police of murdering his former wife nearly three years ago. Both of them deny the charges. It is unclear when will he step down, although parliament has already provisionally named Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro as his replacement.
'People need to eat': South Africa eases coronavirus lockdown - Al Jazeera English
Government allowing some industries to reopen after lockdown plunged its struggling economy deeper into turmoil.
South Africa has started to gradually loosen its strict coronavirus lockdown, allowing some industries to reopen after five weeks of restrictions that plunged its struggling economy deeper into turmoil. The economy of Africa's most industrialised nation was already teetering when the lockdown kicked in on March 27 to contain the spread of infections. More: The government has adopted a gradual and phased approach to reopen the country from May 1. About 1.5 million workers in selected industries return to work in the next phase under strict health conditions, according to Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel. Winter clothing, textile and packaging manufacturing are among the industries permitted to reopen factories. Restaurants will also open, but only for takeaway deliveries. Bans on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol will remain in effect. Some outdoor activities such as cycling, walking and running will be allowed - but for just three hours in the morning. Social distancing and wearing masks in public and at workplaces will be mandatory. Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma warned, "Companies that breach regulations will be forced to close." 'Our people need to eat' President Cyril Ramaphosa took the decision to stagger the easing of the lockdown restrictions in a bid to strike a balance between protecting public health and the economy. "Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living," Ramaphosa said. "Companies need to be able to produce and to trade, they need to generate revenue and keep their employees in employment." South Africa's economy was in recession and reeling from low growth and high debts before the coronavirus pandemic began. Last week, President Ramaphosa unveiled an unprecedented $26.9bn economic stimulus and social relief package, amounting to about 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the country will seek coronavirus relief aid from the IMF and the World Bank, where it is eligible for up to $4.2bn. Flattening the curve The lockdown has had a devastating effect on the economy, but a top government adviser on the pandemic said it has slowed transmissions. "The lockdown has had quite an effect," infectious disease epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim told the AFP news agency. "We have got quite clear evidence that we have flattened the curve and that the number of cases we are seeing - and the number of infections probably occurring - has declined quite substantially." The country's number of confirmed infections has risen to 5,647 since the first case was detected on March 5. It has also recorded Africa's highest COVID-19 death toll, with 103 fatalities.
S Africa: Apology issued for 'blasphemous' remark in mosque raid - Al Jazeera English
Video shows police entering a room where about 20 Muslims were praying during coronavirus restrictions.
South Africa's police minister Bheki Cele has apologised for a "blasphemous" remark made by a policeman to praying Muslims as he was enforcing lockdown rules. The apology, issued on Sunday by the minister through a statement, came after the event was caught on video. More: The images, posted on social media and authenticated by the authorities, show police entering a room on Saturday where about 20 Muslims were praying, and ordering them to the ground. One of the police is heard saying: "Are you bigger than the president? Is Muhammad bigger than the president?" Cele said he "issued an apology to the Muslim community for the blasphemous remarks during the arrest" and an "urgent investigation" was launched "to establish the identity of the person behind such sacrilege" in the incident which took place in the Mpumalanga province. In a separate statement, the police said the policemans comment was "rather unfortunate and it is unacceptable that someone could make such an utterance". It also said that people of all religions had to respect rules during the confinement. On Friday, police had already detained 17 people at a religious ceremony for violating lockdown rules. The Jamiatul Ulama South Africa Council of Muslim Theologians said not only were the remarks "demeaning in the name of the Prophet Muhammad", but police entering a prayer room with "their heavy boots", as seen in the video, was "distressing to Muslims who consider prayer places as sacred". The Council also reminded Muslims to observe lockdown rules. The incident took place as South Africans are under orders to observe strict confinement to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and are allowed to leave their homes only to buy food or for medical appointments. All other gatherings are strictly prohibited. South Africa is the worst-hit sub-Saharan country by the coronavirus outbreak. More than 85 people have died amid more than 4,350 infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Level 5 to 4: South Africa plans to reopen economy, in phases - Aljazeera.com
President says some sectors will partially reopen on May 1 but urges citizens to stay home to slow coronavirus spread.
Johannesburg, South Africa - The government of South Africa has unveiled plans for a partial reopening of the economy on May 1, after implementing one of the most stringent coronavirus-related lockdowns on the continent. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that the country would lift COVID-19 restrictions in phases, with only certain industries allowed to operate at each stage under a five-level risk system. More: "Every business will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, and workplace plans will be put in place to enable disease surveillance and prevent the spread of infection," Ramaphosa said in a televised address. Five stages On March 27, just as South Africa announced its first coronavirus deaths, the government enforced a strict lockdown for an initial period of three weeks. All sectors of the economy deemed inessential were shut down as part of a series of drastic containment measures that even saw the sales of tobacco and alcohol being banned. The lockdown was then extended until the end of April, with the number of confirmed infections beginning to plateau as the country stayed at home. In his speech on Thursday, Ramaphosa said the lockdown would be lowered from its current level five - the most severe, with only essential services permitted - to level four next Friday. This will see only a partial opening of industries such as mining and manufacturing, while the agriculture, financial and telecoms sectors will be allowed to resume activities in full. The country then plans to gradually continue opening up its economy, but restrictions on restaurants, bars, conference facilities along with sporting, cultural and religious events will remain in place, even when the country moves to level 1, the most relaxed alert stage. As of Friday, South Africa has 3,953 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 75 deaths and 1,473 recoveries. "We must not give up now," Ramaphosa said in his televised address, urging South Africans to continue self-isolating at home unless absolutely necessary. "I am asking you to stay strong. I am asking you to remain united. Stay home, stay safe." The announcement came after significant pressure from the country's private sector who argued the lockdown was threatening the survival of many businesses in an economy struggling with recession even before the coronavirus pandemic. "COVID-19 has forced the economy into a reform cycle. Just by the very nature of this crisis, things are going to change locally and abroad," said Thabi Leoka, an economist. "For instance, business globally will be embracing mechanisation over labour. This presents unique challenges for an unequal society like South Africa." Ramaphosa's statement came two days after he announced a $26bn stimulus package that analysts have described as unprecedented in a society that has more welfare recipients than taxpayers. Existing child support grants will be effectively doubled to $50 until the end of the year while unemployed South Africans who are not supported otherwise will be granted $18 a month. The latter measure is essentially an income support grant for those without work - before the coronavirus crisis, unemployment in the country stood at almost 30 percent. The measure will be implemented alongside direct cash injections into businesses through a public and private partnership that has raised $300m. "We've seen coordinated governance on an unprecedented scale. Government is addressing many of the societal challenges South Africa faces," Leoka said. "Its impressive to see how the coronavirus has removed many of the political blockages usually associated with the state." For Brian Lekgethi, an unemployed Soweto resident, the measures are welcome - but only go so far. "This money will do something but I want a job," he told Al Jazeera. "Forever I have been trying to get a job but I never get one." The package meanwhile does not provide any direct support to a large part of the informal sector: Foreign nationals who have largely entered the country irregularly. "I can't clean in the house I usually do because of the lockdown. I have no money now and I am starving here in South Africa and my family have nothing to eat back home either," said one such domestic worker from Zimbabwe, who did not want to be identified. "I am trying to sell at least some vegetables without being caught by police to make money. We are stuck here in this country. We can not go back and now we can't even make a living." Knock-on effect Expatriate rights groups have also warned the situation could lead to a spike in crime as people try to survive and may have a knock-on effect of xenophobic sentiment. "People are struggling and now is not the time for government to exclude people that have been in South Africa for a very long time," said Nqabutho Mabhena, chairman of the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa. Earlier this week, the government announced that it planned to mobilise some 73,000 additional troops to help implement the nationwide lockdown - the largest military deployment in South Africa's democratic era. "They aren't deployed as of yet, but they are preparing the entire defence in order to deploy whatever elements as and when needed," Helmoed Heitman, a military analyst, told Al Jazeera. "It won't only be security deployment but their capabilities to deliver medical, logistical and infrastructure maintenance services may also be called on." Meanwhile, the country's military ombudsman says it has received dozens of complaints since the start of the lockdown, the majority of whom involved alleged that soldiers were using excessive force during lockdown patrols. Civil society and opposition parties have condemned footage surfacing online of people being forced to do physical exercise such as push-ups by gun-wielding soldiers as they return from grocery shopping in the country's townships. "Soldiers don't have experience policing civilians," Heitman said. "But there is absolutely no excuse for instances of excessive force." However, in spite of the serious challenges, South Africa has been praised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for its approach to handling the virus. In a nationwide effort, the country has sent out some 28,000 healthcare workers, trained in detection and surveillance, along with 67 mobile lab units to carry out screenings and tests. To date, more than 130,000 people have been tested and some two million screened for the virus. "It is interesting how South Africa is bringing the disease under control and how some African countries are showing the way," Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO's emergency programme, said in Geneva on Wednesday evening. "We need to leverage the capacity that exist in Africa - the innovation and the science."
Coronavirus second wave may be even worse: US health chief - Al Jazeera English
US has recorded more than 800,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases - most reported of any country.
A second wave of the novel coronavirus in the United States could be even more destructive because it will likely collide with the beginning of flu season, one of the country's top health officials have said. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called on Americans to use the coming months to prepare - and get their flu shots. More: "There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through, and when I've said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they do not understand what I mean," he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Washington Post published late on Tuesday. "We're going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time," he said. During the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, the US experienced the first wave of cases in the spring (the months of March to June), followed by a second, larger wave in the fall (September to December) and winter (December to March), during flu season. The US has recorded more than 800,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, with 44,845 deaths - the most reported in any country. More than 2,700 Americans died within 24 hours, it said on Tuesday. Billions of people around the world have been ordered to stay at home in recent months as governments try to prevent the highly contagious coronavirus from overwhelming healthcare systems. The US, like other countries, has scrambled to secure enough ventilators and personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical staff while the death toll mounts. Redfield said the virus arrived in the US just as regular flu season - which itself can strain healthcare systems - was waning. If the two diseases had peaked at the same time, he told the Post, "it could have been really, really, really, really difficult" for health systems to cope. Getting a flu shot ahead of the next flu season, he said, "may allow there to be a hospital bed available for your mother or grandmother that may get coronavirus".
UK admits PPE shortage amid coronavirus criticism - Al Jazeera English
Gov't faces mounting criticism for shortage of protective equipment amid a number of deaths of healthcare workers.
The British government has admitted a shortage of crucial masks and gowns for healthcare staff as it faces mounting criticism from doctors and medical workers amid the coronavirus outbreak. Medical workers treating patients who have the highly contagious COVID-19 disease have criticised a government suggestion to re-use personal protective equipment, or PPE. More: A Department of Health spokesman said the guidance was to ensure that staff knew what to do to minimise risk if shortages did occur, and that the rules remained in line with international standards. "We've got to do more to get the PPE that people need to the front line," Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said when asked about the situation during the government's daily news conference on Saturday. He acknowledged the shortages but added that a consignment was due to arrive from Turkey on Sunday containing equipment including 400,000 protective gowns. "We are trying to do everything we can to get the equipment we need," he said during the televised briefing. "We are trying to source more internationally, that is difficult at times, there is a great deal of demand for it, and the security of that supply can prove very challenging, but we are making progress there." Britain is nearing the peak of a health crisis in which more than 15,000 people have died - the fifth-highest national coronavirus death toll, a pandemic that has killed at least 150,000 worldwide. Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Ashford on the outskirts of the capital London, said the controversy around the stock of PPE has been growing in recent weeks. "The pressure that's coming, it's because of anecdotal evidence from the front-line staff, who are treating COVID-19 patient, having to do so compromising their own safety," he said. At least 27 NHS staff have died during the pandemic, according to the government figures. Media reports, however, say the toll could be much higher. Data published on Saturday showed 15,464 people have died in British hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus - an increase of 888 in the 24 hours to 16:00 GMT on Friday. That increase is higher than recent days, but below the highest daily death toll of 980, seen just over a week ago. The government issued new guidance to hospitals on Friday setting out that alternatives to fluid-repellent full-length gowns may need to be used, including reusable gowns or even long-sleeved laboratory coats.
Under fire, Lesotho PM deploys army on streets to 'restore order' - Al Jazeera English
Thomas Thabane, under pressure to step down, sends troops, accusing law enforcement agencies of undermining democracy.
Lesotho's embattled prime minister has announced that he has sent troops onto the streets to "restore order", accusing unnamed law enforcement agencies of undermining democracy. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is under pressure to step down after police said they suspect him of having had a hand in the murder of his estranged wife in 2017, a case that has thrown the country into political turmoil. More: In an address on public television on Saturday, 80-year-old Thabane said he had "deployed the army to take control of this situation and take necessary measures against these elements in alignment with the security orders and restore peace and order". "This is to avoid putting the nation in danger," he said. A highly placed government source said police commissioner Holomo Molibeli, his deputy Paseka Mokete and another senior police officer have been arrested by the army. "The general informed the prime minister that he has arrested Holomo, Mokete ... They are temporarily detained at Makoanyane Barracks," the source told AFP in the capital Maseru. There was a heavy presence of armed soldiers, in bulletproof vests and helmets, patrolling the streets. Other soldiers drove around Maseru in armoured cars. The prime minister said he was "surprised" that some "institutions entrusted with maintaining order and adhering to law are busy tarnishing the very principles" of the country's stability and democracy. He said the army would also help enforce a 24-day coronavirus lockdown in the country, which has so far not recorded a single case. The prime minister's order is the latest twist in a saga that has gripped the southern African kingdom. The murder accusations against Thabane came after communications records from the scene of his estranged wife's murder included the prime minister's mobile phone number. His order to deploy the army came a day after the constitutional court set aside his decision to suspend Parliament for three months. In March, Thabane imposed a three-month suspension of Parliament shortly after the national assembly passed a bill barring him from calling fresh elections if he loses a no-confidence vote hanging over his head. Last month, he ordered the security forces and intelligence service to investigate his governing All Basotho Convention (ABC) party rivals, whom he accused of plotting to topple his government. Citing his advanced age, the prime minister had earlier this year offered to step down from office by July 31 following the accusation of his possible involvement in the murder of his then-estranged wife. He faces allegations he acted in "common purpose" in the killing of 58-year-old Lipolelo Thabane, whom he was in the process of divorcing. Lipolelo's murder, two days before his inauguration as prime minister, sent shock waves through the tiny picturesque mountainous kingdom of 2.2 million people. His current wife, Maesaiah Thabane, 43, whom he married two months after Lipolelo's death, is considered a coconspirator in the murder case and has already been charged. Thabane's ABC rivals are pushing for his early departure and have teamed up with opposition with the goal of forming a coalition government. Lesotho has a long history of political turmoil. It has been more than a decade since a prime minister served out a full five-year term in the country which is completely surrounded by South Africa.
Lockdown extension will deepen South Africa's economic crisis - Aljazeera.com
South African government starting to win fight against virus to save lives, but can it save economy from collapse.
South Africa has extended the lockdown until the end of the month. The government says some gains have been made in slowing down the spread of COVID-19. But there is widespread concern about the devastating effect the crisis and the lockdown are having on the already struggling economy and the jobs of millions. Al Jazeera's Fahmida Miller has more from Johannesburg, South Africa.