While lockdown level three remains, restrictions are being eased with alcohol sales allowed and amenities such as parks and beaches opened.
Speaking in one of his regular “family meetings” on Monday night, Ramaphosa said vaccinations would ramp up from April with the arrival of more doses so that two-thirds of the population would eventually acquire immunity. This comes after the first batch of one million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in the country from India earlier in the day.
With a note of hope in a speech otherwise delivered in a tired, sombre tone, Ramaphosa said: “We can finally imagine a world where the virus has been brought under control.”
He did, however, warn that it is “up to us” to get vaccinated “as soon as we are eligible” to avoid a predicted third wave. Vaccination would not be mandatory, though.
“It is in the best interest that all receive the vaccine. But nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be stopped from traveling wherever they want to, or [to] enroll at school if they haven’t taken the vaccine,” Ramaphosa asserted.
The vaccine rollout
Vaccines will be tested by the National Health Laboratory Service in Bloemfontein. Then they will be distributed around the country to thousands of healthworkers, who Ramaphosa hailed as fighting the pandemic from the front line.
After healthworkers are given the first dose, the vaccination programme will move to phase two, which will include essential workers, people over 60, and people over 18 with co-morbidities, such as diabetes or HIV.
The president said a data system will be utilised to “capture all the data”, and allow people to apply for vaccines as soon as they qualify for it.
An additional 500 000 doses will arrive from India later this month, with 12-million from Covax in the same month and then two million more doses arriving by March.
Johnson & Johnson will manufacture nine million doses of its one-dose vaccine that can be kept stable at typical refrigeration levels at Aspen’s plant in Port Elizabeth. Pfizer will send 20-million more in the second half of the year.
As chair of the African Union, Ramaphosa also announced that a billion doses had been secured for the continent. He lauded cellphone company MTN for donating $25-million to procure seven million vaccines for the continent, hinting that other companies might want to follow suit.
This, he said, meant “our immediate neighbours” would get the vaccine.
The virus spread slows down
The president’s announcement comes as the rate of Covid infections continue to decline.
More than 3 000 hospital admissions were recorded each day at the peak. This number has now dropped by some 90%.
He thanked South Africans who endured lockdown restrictions “so that lives could be saved”.
“While these restrictions are temporary, the lives lost are permanent.”
He acknowledged that the restrictions had battered businesses, and that the restrictions could not continue when it was no longer necessary.
Lockdown level three remains, but gets tweaked
Curfew will now be from 11pm to 4am. Establishments such as restaurants will have to close by 10pm to allow staff and patrons to reach home before the curfew starts.
Faith-based gatherings can go ahead, but not more than 50 people are allowed in an indoor area.
Dams, rivers, public parks and beaches, among other recreational facilities, will also be reopened.
The sale of alcohol by licensed dealers will be permitted from 10am to 6pm for off-site consumption from Monday to Thursday only.
The sale of alcohol for on-site consumption will be permitted from 10am to 10pm.
Ramaphosa said: “These changes have been made by the significant reduction in hospitalisation across the country.”
He asked for people to drink alcohol responsibly to avoid burdening the health system with trauma cases. He further pleaded for people not to be complacent with the health protocols because “the rate of infection is still high”.
“It remains compulsory for everyone to wear a mask when in public.”
Ramaphosa acknowledged the nearly 4 000 health workers that Cuba has sent around the world to help countries tackle the Covid pandemic, saying South Africa would nominate the “brigade” for the Nobel peace prize.