The blanket ban on the sale of alcohol will continue, while beaches in Covid-19 hot spots will also remain closed as current pandemic-related restrictions in South Africa have been extended.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday night that Level 3 restrictions will be extended to try to counter the second wave surge in Covid-19 infections in the country.
It is unclear whether the ban will be until the end of the month or continue until mid-February, in-line with new land border closures he also announced, which will be in place until 15 February. Updated regulations around Alert Level 3 are expected to be published this week.
South Africa has been reporting an average of around 20 000 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus daily since last Wednesday, putting a huge strain on the healthcare system amid a shortage of hospital beds.
Ramaphosa said more than 190 000 new Covid-19 infections have been reported since the start of the new year, describing the current situation as a “grave, persistent and deepening pandemic”.
“The pandemic in our country is now at its most devastating. The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths [are] higher now than it has ever been since the first case was recorded in our country in March 2020.”
“As a proportion of the population, the province with the highest average number of cases over the last seven days is KwaZulu-Natal, followed by the Western Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga,” he added.
Ramaphosa noted that the number of new infections in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape has grown fast and now far exceed the peak during the first wave.
“Infections in Gauteng are growing exponentially and are expected to increase further as more residents of Gauteng return to the province following the festive break …. However, we are encouraged that the rate of new infections in the Eastern Cape, while still high, is lower now than [it was] in the middle of December,” he said.
“In several parts of the country, hospital admissions are also much higher now than during the first wave. There are currently over 15 000 people with Covid-19 in hospitals nationally, placing a considerable strain on health facilities, personnel and equipment,” he added.
Ramaphosa pointed out that the massive increase in infections is largely driven by a new variant of the coronavirus known as 501.V2, which was first identified in South Africa in November.
“We do know that this new variant of the virus spreads much faster than the earlier variants. This explains the fact that many more people have become infected in a far shorter space of time,” he said.
“Emerging information suggests that this new variant does not cause more severe illness than the original variants. But it does put more pressure on the health system because the cases increase so rapidly and the hospitals get full more quickly,” he added.
The president maintained that it was important for the alcohol ban to remain in place in order “to protect the country’s health services at this crucial time”.
The ban had seen a notable reduction in trauma cases at the country’s hospitals during the festive season, which reduced the pressure on healthcare workers already under strain due to the pandemic.
“Health services in several parts of the country reported that the prohibition of alcohol sales had significantly reduced the number of trauma cases seen in our hospitals especially over the New Year period,” said Ramaphosa.
Based on the recommendations of the National Coronavirus Command Council, he said that Cabinet has decided to maintain the country on adjusted Alert Level 3.
“Most of the measures that were announced on December 28, 2020 will therefore remain in place,” he added.
This means that the sale of alcohol from retail outlets and the on-site consumption of alcohol is still not be permitted. Beer giant SA Breweries, which is controlled by global brewing conglomerate AB InBev, is already taking government to court over the ban, while the restaurant industry is also likely to be unhappy about the extended restrictions.
All beaches, dams, lakes, rivers, public parks and public swimming pools in hotspot areas will be closed to the public.
“Given the risk of widespread transmission, most indoor and outdoor gatherings will not be permitted. This includes social gatherings, religious gatherings, political events, traditional council meetings and gatherings at sports grounds,” said Ramaphosa.
“As before, this does not include funerals and other limited exceptions as detailed in the regulations, such as restaurants, museums and gyms,” he noted.
However, he reiterated that funerals may not be attended by more than 50 people, and that social distancing, hand sanitising and mask wearing need to be adhered to.
South Africa’s curfew will now start at 9pm and end earlier, at 5am. It remains compulsory for every person to wear a mask in a public space.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa also announced that in order to reduce congestion and the high risk of transmission at the country’s land borders, Cabinet has decided that the 20 land ports of entry that are currently open will be closed until February 15 for general entry and departure.
These include the six busiest border posts – Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Oshoek, Ficksburg and Kopfontein.
People will be however still be allowed to enter or depart the country for:
– the transportation of fuel, cargo and goods,
– emergency medical attention for a life-threatening condition,
– the return of South African nationals, permanent residents or persons with other valid visas,
– the departure of foreign nationals,
– daily commuters from neighbouring countries who attend school in South Africa.
Ramaphosa said the full list of exemptions will be contained in the updated Level 3 regulations.
“It is necessary that we keep the Alert Level 3 measures in place until we have passed the peak of new infections and we are certain that the rate of transmission has fallen enough to allow us to safely ease the current restrictions,” he said.