Level 4: What does this mean for the legal profession?  

May 1st, 2020

On 23 April President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed South Africa (SA) on the response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. In his speech, President Ramaphosa noted that because the coronavirus can spread rapidly through the population, it can overwhelm even the best-resourced health system within a matter of weeks, which is what SA has gone to great lengths to prevent. He added that the World Health Organisation has commended SA for acting swiftly and following scientific advice to delay the spread of the virus.

Because the nationwide lockdown cannot be sustained indefinitely, some economic activity in the country has to be resumed. Government has accordingly decided that beyond 30 April, the country should begin a gradual and phased recovery of economic activity. The easing of the lockdown restrictions will be implemented through a Risk Adjusted Strategy. The risk adjusted approach is guided by advice from scientists who have warned that an abrupt and uncontrolled lifting of the restrictions can cause a massive resurgence in infections.

President Ramaphosa announced that there will be five Risk Adjusted Strategy alert levels, namely:

  • 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.
  • Level 3: The easing of some restrictions, including work and social activities, to address a high risk of transmission.
  • Level 2: The 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.
  • Level 1: Most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times.

There will be a national alert level and separate alert levels for each province, district and metro in the country. The National Coronavirus Command Council will determine the alert level based on an assessment of the infection rate and the capacity of the health system.

The country will move to level 4 from 1 May, but what does this mean for the legal profession? Clause H7 of level 4 of the Risk Adjusted Strategy states that: ‘Other professional services may operate only where work-from-home is not possible, and only to support other Level Four services.’ Since clause O2 lists the courts and the deeds office under permitted level 4 services, legal practitioners fall under the professional services, which may operate that are referred to in clause H7.

Before the country can move to level 4, regulations, in this regard, will have to be gazetted. Various sectors and business organisations/trade unions, including members of the public were invited to submit comments on the schedule of services to be phased in. Keep a look out for these regulations in the case that the regulations are different from the Risk Adjusted Strategy.

Legal practitioners who resume operations will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols and workplace plans must be put in place to enable disease surveillance and prevent the spread of infection. It is important to note that those who resume operations must do so in a phased manner by first preparing the workplace for a return to operations followed by the return of the workforce in batches of no more than one-third of employees. To view the full Risk Adjusted Strategy see: https://sacoronavirus.co.za.

On 3 May the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, issued directions in terms of reg 4(2) of the regulations under the Disaster Management Act of 57 of 2002.
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This article was first published in De Rebus in 2020 (May) DR 3.