South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced to tighten the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions as the country entered the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Addressing the nation on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said four of South Africa’s nine provinces were already hit by the third wave of the pandemic and the others were well on their way there.
The economic hub of Gauteng province has been particularly hard hit, accounting for two thirds of the 40 per cent increase in infections across the country in the past week. The average number of people dying in the province from COVID-19 has increased by 48 per cent. Within a matter of a few days, it is likely that the number of new cases in Gauteng will surpass the peak of the second wave. We must act decisively and act quickly to save lives, Ramaphosa said.
To stem the third wave of the pandemic, the president said, the government will move to the higher level-3 of the COVID-19 lockdown regulations, effective from Tuesday midnight. As part of the level-3 alert, a night curfew will be imposed which will start at 10 pm and end at 4 am.
Non-essential establishments like restaurants, bars and fitness centres are now required to close by 9 pm to allow their employees and patrons to travel home before the start of the curfew. Gatherings are now limited to a maximum of 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors. Where the venue is too small to accommodate appropriate social distancing, 50% of the floor space may be used. Gatherings at funerals and cremations also must not exceed 50.
Sale of alcohol from retail outlets for off-site consumption will only be permitted between 10 am and 6 pm from Monday to Thursday, excluding public holidays. South Africa has so far reported 1,761,066 COVID-19 infections and 58,087 deaths due to the disease. The country in the last seven days has recorded an average of 7,500 daily infections. The death toll has increased by 48% from 535 two weeks ago to 791 in the past seven days.
The massive surge in new infections means that we must once again tighten restrictions on the movements of persons and gatherings. We need to enforce compliance more rigorously and take firmer action against those who do not adhere to the regulations that save our lives, Ramaphosa said. We know from the last two waves of infections and experience from around the world that when health facilities are overwhelmed, more lives are lost. Our priority is to ensure that we have enough health workers and hospital beds, the president said, observing that hospitals were nearing capacity, especially in Gauteng, where the increase in infections was faster and steeper than other provinces.
Ramaphosa said hospital admissions for COVID-19 over the last 14 days were 59% higher than in the preceding two weeks. Meanwhile, the new restrictions will impact the planned public commemorations of Youth Day on Wednesday. Youth Day on June 16 is a public holiday in South Africa.
Youth Day commemorates a protest known as the Soweto uprising of 1976, which resulted in a wave of agitations, led by black school children, across the country in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. It is estimated that 20,000 students took part in the protests. They were met with fierce police brutality and many were shot and killed. June 16 is regarded by many as the major catalyst in the ensuing widespread resistance and mass public protests which led to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 after 27 years as a political prisoner. Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically-elected president in 1994.
Ramaphosa said the Youth Day’s major event at Pietermaritzburg would now be a hybrid event with a significantly reduced number of people in attendance and a virtual address by him.