By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the extension of South Africa’s adjusted level 3 lockdown, with some changes to the current restrictions.
In his televised address this evening, the president said that the pandemic in South Africa is now at its most 'devastating', with the number of new cases, deaths and hospital admissions now at the highest point since the coronavirus was first detected in the country in March 2020.
More than 1.2 million cases have been reported in the country to date, with over 33,000 deaths.
Since the start of the new year, 190,000 new cases have been reported, alongside 4,600 deaths. More than 15,000 South Africans are currently in hospital, with approximately a third of these patients on oxygen support.
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 Western Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Ramaphosa said that infections in Gauteng are growing exponentially, with this number set to rise as more holidaymakers return home from the coastal areas. This surge in increases is due to a new Covid-19 variant in the country which means that many more people have become infected in a far shorter space of time.
Citing early research, he said that this variant is not any more dangerous, but places severe strain on hospitals as cases surge exponentially.
"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.
"Therefore, there is an intensive focus in our health facilities on increasing oxygen supply and activating field hospital beds. Additional posts that were vacant are being filled, and PPE stocks are being jointly monitored with the Office of Health Standards Compliance, "he said.
With the country facing its second coronavirus wave, Ramaphosa announced that the adjusted level 3 lockdown – first announced on 28 December – will be further extended.
It means that the current ban on the sale of alcohol remains in effect.
"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 over the New Year period. It is vital that we continue to protect our health services," he said.
In addition, the country’s beaches dams, rivers and public pools in hotspot areas will be closed to the public. However, the president also announced a number of new restriction changes, including:
Curfew – The country’s curfew has been shortened by an hour in the morning and will now run from 21h00 – 05h00;
Land borders – The country will close its land borders until 15 February to reduce crowding. These include the six busiest border posts, which are Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Oshoek, Ficksburg and Kopfontein.
There are a number of exceptions to this rule including the transport of fuel cargo and goods, medical attention, the return of South African nationals, and the departure of foreign nationals.
Gatherings – 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.
As before, this does not include funerals and other limited exceptions as detailed in the regulations, such as restaurants, museums and gyms. Funerals may not be attended by more than 50 people, and there needs to be social distancing, hand sanitising and mask-wearing.
And, he said, the "sale of alcohol from retail outlets and the on-site consumption of alcohol is still not permitted". This, he said, was to ease pressure on the country's health-care system — particularly for trauma cases.
Schools – Ramaphosa said that the National Coronavirus Command Council will supply further guidance on the return of schools later this month.