What does Covid-19 alert level 2 mean for elections, movement and gatherings

South Africa has moved back to an adjusted alert level 2, as parts of the country enter the Covid-19 third wave. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday evening as the number of positive cases in South Africa has more than doubled in the last month from around 4% to more than 11%.

“We are advised by our experts that a positivity rate of over 5% is a cause for concern. The provinces of Free State, Northern Cape, Northwest, and Gauteng have reached the threshold of the third wave of infections,” said Ramaphosa. 

According to the most recent weekly report by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the Northern Cape reported the highest weekly incidence risk, 179.6 cases per 100 000 persons, followed by the Free State at 82.0 cases and Gauteng with 53.7 cases per 100 000 persons. 

Reasons for a sharp increase in positive cases include social gatherings — where people are not adhering to health protocols — funerals, and sporting activities which already propelled the department of basic education to suspend direct contact sporting activities in mid-May

“We are all suffering from pandemic fatigue. We’ve tended to become complacent. We have not been as vigilant about wearing our masks all the time. We have not been avoiding crowded places. And then we have been socialising a lot more,” said Ramaphosa.

As a result the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 has recommended further restrictions in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

South Africa has vaccinated over 960 000 people. Of which 479 768 under the Sisonke Programme and nearly 485 000 under Phase Two of the nationwide vaccination programme (using the two-shot Pfizer vaccine).

Ramaphosa said the total number of people vaccinated would in the following few days increase to over 1-million people who are most vulnerable. 

Politics

A reduction in gatherings will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences for political parties as they prepare for this year’s local government elections.

In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa said that all gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.

“Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50% of the capacity of the venue may be used. This includes religious services, political events and social gatherings, as well as restaurants, bars, taverns and similar places,” he said.

Recently parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) have had to find innovative ways to conduct party elections. 

The DA pioneered the hybrid system of conducting elective conferences having successfully elected John Steenhuisen as the party leader in what was a fiercely contested congress after its watershed 2019 elections. 

Meanwhile, the ANC has attempted to reintroduce in-person meetings and conferences. This week, the party’s Northern Cape province held its congress where the party chair Zamani Saul was re-elected uncontested. 

The ANC in the Eastern Cape held an extended provincial executive committee meeting attended by former president Thabo Mbeki. 

In his political address this weekend, provincial chair Oscar Mabuyane said the party should guard against its meetings becoming super spreader events that will risk the lives of people who are not in this room.

“Already the incidence of Covid-19 cases has increased by 20.7% from 8.2 cases to 9.9 cases per 100 000 population in the past seven days in our province. Nelson Mandela Metro and Sarah Baartman have entered the response phase and Chris Hani and Joe Gqabi are in the alert phase. 

“Buffalo City Metro, the host region for our meeting, has just gone beyond 5 cases per 100 000 population. For the first time in many months, the active cases in our province have surpassed the 500 mark and that is a great concern for us. The speedy inoculation of our population is of utmost importance particularly with the winter season approaching,” he said.

Ramaphosa announced that the elections would take place on 27 October. This was not welcomed by theEconomic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which raised concern that the elections would not be fair to opposition parties.

Party leader Julius Malema argued that opposition parties would be caught on the back foot with no campaigning having been undertaken for the better part of the year. 

Malema said political parties have not had contact with voters adding that none of the activities, fundamental in an election year, have taken place. 

This cynicism by the EFF and many others led the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) to appoint former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke to review whether the local government elections should go ahead or possibly be postponed given the challenges the country is facing because of Covid-19.

Moseneke will consider submissions from all stakeholders and political parties for his report. 

This report will consider all disaster management, legal and health factors to inform the possibility of a free and fair election, the review will be done in terms of the Electoral Commission Act 51 of 1996, the IEC  told the media earlier this month.

This is the first time the Act has been invoked.

What it means

People will need to be at home between 11pm and 4am as Ramaphosa extended the curfew, asserting that all “non-essential centres”, such as restaurants bars and fitness facilities, had to be closed by 10pm “to allow their workers to go home on time”. 

However, funeral numbers have not been quelled as the maximum number of people allowed to attend has been kept at 100 by the president. 

“Gatherings are the greatest source of infection. The less we travel and move around, the less the virus spreads. Funeral gatherings should not be more than 100 people. As before, night vigils and after tears gatherings are not allowed.”

He again stressed the mandatory wearing of masks in public spaces, calling it a “criminal offence” for people not to wear face masks. 

With the slow pace of vaccination, Ramaphosa acknowledged that teething problems would ensue “in the largest vaccination process in the country’s history”. 

But the president tried to assure the public that the government would carry out the inoculations to all adults in the country. 

“As we have previously announced, we have enough vaccines to vaccinate the entire adult population, which is around 40 million people,” Ramaphosa contended. 

“As the African continent, we are pushing ahead with producing our own vaccines in order to be self-sufficient,” Ramaphosa said, adding that only 2% of the continent had been vaccinated to date. 

He added that the Pfizer vaccine would be produced at a plant in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, and called on the continent to ramp up its own production of jabs to counter any future outbreak of pandemics. 

“Africa must boost its own vaccine manufacturing processes.”

In the previous iteration of alert Level 2, borders and ports of entry had been closed except for conditions such as the transportation of fuel, cargo and goods or  the entry of foreign sea crew for the purposes of the exchange of sea crew in the country; or humanitarian operations.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.
Khaya Koko
Khaya Koko is a journalist with a penchant for reading through legal documents braving the ravages of cold court benches to expose the crooked. He writes about social justice and human-interest stories. Most importantly, he is a card-carrying member of the Mighty Orlando Pirates.
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.

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