Yes, the Nation has already come together (figuratively speaking) to do their bit in fighting the spread of the highly infectious COVID-19. Many South Africans are taking the necessary steps, like washing their hands regularly, complying with social distancing and embracing self-isolation, to put up a brave fight against this coronavirus outbreak. Citizens have indeed risen to the challenge, so far! But, the reality is, more needs to be done. With more positive COVID-19 cases being confirmed in South Africa, Government has decided to implement stricter rules and regulations for the country to follow, to contain the virus as much as possible. 

On 18 March 2020, the Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs issued regulations, in terms of the Disaster Management Act, to further prevent the spread and effects of COVID-19. It’s important to note that not complying with these measures can lead to a run-in with the law, so here’s a closer look at the regulations and answers to questions that might pop up:

Gatherings: coming together means staying apart

While we certainly need to unite as a Nation to combat COVID-19, it doesn’t mean it must be in the literal sense. In fact, the new regulations state no more than 100 people may get together at a single premises, and no more than 50 specifically where alcohol is served. Law enforcement authorities also have the right to break up the gatherings, and should anyone refuse to comply, they will be arrested and detained.

What does this mean for offices spaces?

At this point, there is no clear indication that offices and other places of work fall under the definition of “gatherings”.  But, as Tom Smith, a legal expert at LAW FOR ALL, advises: “Employers would be, in my opinion, best served to abide by the regulation even in the workplace. For instance,  where at all possible, work on a shift or rotation basis where more than 100 employees share a workspace”.

What about getting a deposit refund from a venue if a wedding or event was planned?

The Consumer Protection Act will come into play. Basically, blanket non-refundable deposits are illegal. So, a refund is possible, but it might not be for the full amount.  “Such a refund would be on the premise that the service provider (the venue) would have to show that a reasonable cancellation fee would be applicable; for example, where the service provider was unable to rebook the wedding venue or function to recover the lost costs,” states Smith. Bear in mind; it will also largely depend on what was agreed between the two parties.

Clamping down on the sale, dispensing or transportation of alcohol

Many social hotspots, such as restaurants, taverns and nightclubs that sell alcohol, will have to close their doors immediately. An exception, in this case, would be an establishment that does not accommodate more than 50 people, has adequate space,  and implemented strict hygiene rules for patrons and staff to follow. These venues and establishments may only serve alcohol until 6 pm on weekdays; and 1 pm on Sundays and Public Holidays.  

Similarly, places like hotels, B&Bs and guest houses that sell alcohol and provide accommodation must ensure there is adequate space and that there are resources and directions around hygiene for guests and staff to make use of, to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

What does that mean for drinking alcohol at a hotel?

Well, the regulation isn’t specifically limited to taverns, restaurants and clubs; it applies to any on-consumption premises where alcohol is served. “The defining stipulation would be whether or not the area accommodates more than 50 persons. If this is exceeded it is my opinion that it would be prohibited,” states Smith.

Legal consequences: 
Anyone who allows more than 50 people to gather at a premises where alcohol is sold and consumed will be guilty of a criminal offence. The punishment could be a hefty fine, jail time, or both.

Refusing to be examined, treated, isolated or quarantined

For COVID-19 to be contained and, ultimately, defeated, the Government needs to know the number of positive and high-risk cases. With that in mind, no one who has a positive diagnosis, or is suspected of having the virus or has come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 may refuse to be tested and examined or admitted for treatment and isolation or quarantine. 

Isn’t this a violation of the right to privacy?

While the right to privacy is undoubtedly a fundamental Constitutional right, it wouldn’t necessarily apply to someone whose illegal conduct is infringing on the rights of other citizens.  “In committing a criminal act, which in this case is refusing to be examined, tested or isolated,  the person would be acting against the public interest by endangering the lives of fellow citizens,” clarifies Smith.


Serious legal implications: Should anyone not comply with this, they will be placed in isolation for 48-hrs while waiting for a warrant to be issued by a Magistrate. Anyone who intentionally exposes or infects another person could face assault, attempted murder or murder charges.  

The immediate closure of schools, daycares, creches and other partial care facilities.

These facilities must close their doors and stop daily operations immediately until 15 April 2020 (this can be changed, so stay up to date with developments).

Are parents still obligated to pay school fees?

Uncertainty around this issue is understandable, but parents should stay on the right side of the law and continue to pay school fees. If not, they could face legal action. “It is advisable to first initiate an application for exemption before ceasing to make payment of school fees as any failure could equate to the school exercising its right in terms of the Public Schools Act, ” says Smith.

Temporary suspension of visits 

Anyone who wants to see their loved ones at prisons, correctional centres, holding cells, youth centres, shelters or treatment facilities can only do so in 30 days, effective immediately. However, this period can be extended.

Punishment for spreading fake news

It’s vital now more than ever that we separate fact from fiction and stop the distribution of misinformation about COVID-19 in South Africa. So, with that said, anyone who lies about them or someone else being infected with the virus can be found guilty of a criminal offence. The punishment could be a fine and/or up to 6 months in jail.

The same legal consequences apply for anyone who posts false or misleading information about COVID-19 on social media or any other platform.  

So, sharing anything about COVID-19 on Facebook is a no-go?

If the information about COVID-19 being shared is relevant and accurate, it is not a criminal offence. However, as Smith asserts: “The regulations prohibit and criminalise publishing statements that intend to deceive any other person on COVID-19; the infection status of any person; and any measure taken by the government on COVID-19”.

Isn’t this a violation of freedom of speech?

While having an opinion and sharing those views on social media or any other platform is protected by the Constitution, those thoughts cannot infringe on the rights of anyone else.  “In this case, inaccurate information could infringe on the rights of any other person and is against public interest,” says Smith.

Fact or fiction? Avoiding fake news.

Facts are your friends, so only turn to credible and official sources, like the Department of Health and Government’s resource portal (linked below) for updates, information and regulations around COVID-19.

Together we can beat COVID-19.

There is no doubt that everyone needs to do their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19. In addition to carrying implementing personal hygiene and isolation measure, South Africans must take the new rules and regulations seriously. For additional information, visit the Government’s COVID-19 resource portal

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