President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that the country has been moved to level three of the lockdown following an alarming increase in the number of Covid-19 cases. This will take effect later on the night of Tuesday 15 June, once the regulations have been gazetted.
Ramaphosa said four provinces — Gauteng, Northern Cape, North West and Free State — are officially in the third wave, while others are approaching that point. The infection rate in Gauteng, Limpopo, Western Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal continues to rise.
The president said he was aware of the growing impatience among South Africans but noted that “we have to act decisively and quickly to save lives” and to “return to the basics” to contain the spread of the virus.
Alcohol sales will now be restricted to between 10am and 5pm, while the number of people allowed to participate in outdoor events is now reduced to 100 people, with indoor gatherings limited to 50. The president also announced that no alcohol would be allowed on beaches and in parks.
All restaurants, gyms, bars and restaurants would need to close by 9pm. Curfew will now be from 10pm to 4am.
Ramaphosa said smaller venues that do not allow for appropriate social distancing would be limited to filling to 50% capacity. Funerals may not exceed 50 people. Night vigils, after-funeral gatherings and after-tears parties are not permitted. To limit large gatherings, Ramaphosa announced that the planned Youth Day event, which he is set to address, on Wednesday 16 June will now be a hybrid event.
Ramaphosa said it was “understandable” that South Africans were now “weary” and struggling to cope with the effects of the pandemic and the constraints that had been placed upon them.
However, the restrictions had been effective in dealing with the first two waves of the pandemic.
The inoculation programme was, despite early problems, finally gaining momentum, with around two-million Johnson and Johnson vaccines expected at the end of the month to replace those that had to be destroyed.
Ramaphosa said the country has the capacity to vaccinate 150 000 people a day, with a plan in place to increase this to 250 000 people a day in the near future.
He said the next group of people to be vaccinated would be teachers and security personnel.
Defeating the disease
“We are finally on a path to defeating the disease,” Ramaphosa said.
However, the third wave had begun to take hold, with 7 500 new cases being diagnosed daily over the past seven days.
Hospital admissions over the past 14 days were now 59% higher than over the preceding 14, while the average number of deaths had increased by 48% to 791 in the past seven days.
All provinces were experiencing a rise in infections — except the Northern Cape — while at least four provinces were already in the third wave. Infection rates were continuing to rise in Gauteng, Limpopo, the Western Cape, the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Gauteng takes the worst hit
Gauteng, Ramaphosa said, was the worst hit, with infections accounting for two-thirds of the national figure.
He said the increases in the province are “faster and quicker” and that it is expected the numbers will surpass the numbers of the second wave within days.
Ramaphosa said private hospitals in the province have already said they are reaching full capacity.
Earlier on Tuesday, Gauteng health department spokesperson Kwara Kekana said the department had experienced a significant rise in the number of cases in the past week, the majority of them in private hospitals.
Kekana said the department would continue to add more beds in hospitals throughout Gauteng in response to the increased demand created by third-wave infections.
Ramaphosa said the new restrictions were essential to save lives.
It remained a criminal offence not to wear a mask in public, while the operators of taxis, restaurants and other services were compelled to abide by the restriction in numbers and to ensure that their patrons wore masks, sanitised and maintained social distance.