The Coronavirus has taken the whole world by storm and the government has implemented strict restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. For the first time in our lives we found that we could be breaking the law by doing something as simple as getting a haircut, getting our nails done, throwing a birthday party for our children or catching up with a few friends over a braai.
The national alert level 3 of lockdown has many South Africans asking themselves whether the floodgates are open or not. During national alert level 5 many understood what the rules of engagement were, namely, do not leave your house unless you are going to the doctor or the grocery store. Many even understood that strict regulations adopted placed a limit on their constitutional right to freedom of movement. That has not been the case with alert level 3 and it is apparent that it has been widely misunderstood by the public. The easing of certain restrictions has somehow misled people into thinking that there is no lockdown at all and that it is business as usual. This is not the case and the National Coronavirus Command Council have instituted a risk adjusted strategy to the opening up of the country’s economy in a manner that will save lives and keep the wheels of the economy turning. Contrary to popular belief, all movement of persons still has to be essential and those who are back at work have to take all necessary safety precautions.
A few weeks ago I was traveling between provinces and I had to go to my nearest police station to obtain a permit. As a legal practitioner I did not want to find myself on the wrong side of the law, but it dawned on me that the layperson may not have been aware of where and how to obtain a permit.
Even though many restrictions have been relaxed, there are still regulations in place to govern traveling across provinces even now on level 3. Chapter 4 section 33(4) of the Government Gazette No.43364 of 28 May 2020 states that persons may only travel between provinces/districts for the following reasons:
- persons doing so in the course of carrying out work responsibilities or performing any service permitted under Alert Level 3;
- persons travelling for purposes of- (i) moving to a new place of residence; or (ii) caring for an immediate family member;
- members of Parliament performing oversight responsibilities;
- learners or students referred to in regulation 34(5) who have to commute to and from those schools or institutions of higher learning during periods when those schools or institutions are permitted to operate;
- the attendance of funerals as provided for in regulation 35: the transportation of mortal remains;
- obtaining medical treatment;
- persons who are returning to their place of residence from a quarantine or isolation facility;
- or any movement permitted under regulation 41.
The current regulations are quite clear that one needs a permit to travel between provinces/districts in order to prevent cross contamination by people traveling from hotspots to lower risk areas. Such permits may be obtained from the Magistrate Court or the police station. There are various forms to be completed in accordance with the reason for travel. One needs to bring proof of their reason to travel, for example if you are travelling because you have terminated your lease at your current place of residence you will need to furnish proof of such termination in order to obtain a travel permit.
The good news however, is that the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs gazetted amended regulations on the 25th of June 2020 under Gazette no.43476 which allow for more sectors of our economy to be opened. In summary this is what is now allowed under advanced level 3:
- Regulation 33 (1) (g) has been amended to state that a person may leave their homes for leisure purposes (going to the movies, hiking, casino, or personal grooming services) – restricted to their province of residence;
- Regulation 37 which pertains to gatherings has been amended to state that all gatherings are prohibited except:
- a gathering at a faith-based institution which is limited to 50 persons or less;
- a funeral, also limited to 50 persons;
- a workplace for work purposes;
- conferences and meetings for business purposes;
- cinemas, theatres, museums, libraries and archives;
- an agricultural auction;
- personal care services (hairdressing, beauty treatments, make-up, nail salons and tattoo parlours);
All the above-mentioned gatherings are subject to the strict adherence to all health protocols and social distancing measures.
What is still prohibited however is found in regulation 39 (5) which is the opening of:
- gyms and fitness centres;
- sports grounds fields and public swimming pools;
- night clubs;
- accommodation establishments not formally accredited and licensed, such as private homes for paid leisure accommodation (AirBNB);
- conference facilities, except for business use;
- any consumption of alcohol on premises, including bars, taverns, shebeens and similar establishments; and
- beaches and public parks.
The position on inter-provincial travel therefore remains the same and is still prohibited except for the above-mentioned reasons. If one is travelling to another province for work purposes one may book at a formally accredited accommodation facility. It is important to emphasise that one still needs a travel permit even if you are using public transport like long distance taxis or buses or flights. You will not be allowed on board without a permit.
The penalties applicable for contravention of lockdown regulations are a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months. Therefore should one attempt to cross provincial boundaries without a permit, you could attract a criminal record to your name.
Author: Lungelo Ndebele