President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the immediate re-banning of alcohol sales, while maintaining the current, national level three lockdown. He also announced the opening of parks for exercise and the implementation of a national curfew between 9pm and 4am, which will come into effect from Monday night.
Wearing cloth masks in all public spaces will now be mandatory and enforceable by law, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Taxis will, however, be allowed to load at full capacity for short trips.
“By taking these measures, we are fully aware that they impose unwelcome restrictions on people’s lives and their movement,” Ramaphosa said. “They are, however, necessary to see us through the peak of the disease.”
Cabinet has also approved the extension of the national state of disaster to August 15.
This follows an explosion in cases in Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape in recent weeks, with the Western Cape appearing to have reached a plateau in case numbers.
In South Africa’s economic hub, Gauteng, there were 93 044 cases reported as of Saturday night.
Across the country, the national confirmed coronavirus caseload was at more than 276 000 cases, with 4 079 deaths, Ramaphosa announced.
He said there are about 12 000 new infections in the country every day. This translates to about 500 new cases every hour.
According to Ramaphosa, some models project between 40 000 and 50 000 deaths before the end of this year.
In light of the increased infection rate, the national coronavirus command council and cabinet have considered whether the parts of the country should return to a higher alert level, Ramaphosa said.
But, he added, “taking this step now would not necessarily achieve a significant reduction in the rate of transmission and would also come at great and extraordinary economic cost, putting more livelihoods at risk and potentially causing long-lasting social harm”.
“We delayed the spread of the virus by working together. But now the surge in infections that we had been advised by medical experts would come, has arrived,” the president said.
A fierce and destruction storm
Ramaphosa likened the coronavirus outbreak to a winter storm forming in the South Atlantic, breaching the Western Cape first, before making its way to other parts in the country’s interior.
“The coronavirus storm is far fiercer and much more destructive than any we have known before. It is stretching our resources as we speak, but also stretching our resolve,” he said.
Governance has also been affected by the outbreak, with three of the country’s nine premiers testing positive for Covid-19.
Ramaphosa reprimanded South Africans for not adhering to lockdown regulations, saying many people were ignoring safety guidelines.
There are a number of people who have organised parties, gone on “drinking sprees”, or attended funerals with “more than 1 000” people, he said.
“We have the power within ourselves”, Ramaphosa said, “to limit the destruction of this virus.”
Ramaphosa has announced an increased focus on the hospitalisation of people needing treatment for Covid-19. This comes as hospitals in hotspots are feeling the strain of the number of cases.
More general wards to isolate people and critical-care units to treat patients will be set up, with non-life-threatening procedures postponed to ease the load on hospitals.
Healthcare recruitment drive
More healthcare workers will be recruited, including additional nurses, doctors and emergency health personnel. But Ramaphosa is worried about a shortfall of more than 12 000 health professionals, mostly nurses, doctors and physiotherapists.
“We have heard of people who have tested positive being turned away from health facilities because of a lack of beds; this is deeply worrying. It means we have to move with greater urgency to strengthen our strategy to manage the peak of infections,” Ramaphosa said.
In June — during a visit to the Western Cape — the president said cost was not an issue in employing more doctors and nurses, and that saving lives was his priority.
As the Mail & Guardian reported previously, earlier in the pandemic the Covid-19 Modelling Consortium produced a projection that by November this year, between 8 000 and 11 000 Gautengers may have succumbed to the disease. But the rate at which the disease is spreading in the province appears to be accelerating. The consortium predicted that 342 residents would die in July, whereas the current projection is 700.
In the coming weeks, based on models presented, the province could face more than 200 000 active cases and more than 700 deaths.
According to the head of the vaccine trials in the country, Dr Shabir Madhi, densely populated areas see one person spread the virus to up to four others, leading to an exponential rise in cases.
Ramaphosa concluded his speech on Sunday night by paying tribute to those “who are on the frontline of our fight against this coronavirus”, including healthcare workers, police officers and journalists.
“Let us remember that every individual action that we undertake does, and can make a big difference … Now more than ever, we are responsible for the lives of those around us,” he said.
“We will weather the storm, as we have weathered other storms that have descended on our nation. We will restore our country to health and prosperity. I am convinced that we shall overcome.”