President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation last night moving the country to Adjusted Alert Level 4 following weeks of sustained spikes of the coronavirus infections attributed to the circulating Delta variant.
This will be in place for the next 14 days and an assessment will be made on July 11 to determine whether they need to be maintained or adjusted.
The situation is alarming as both public and private hospitals are admitting record numbers of patients leading to critical shortage of beds. According to the national department of health’s statistics, on Sunday the cumulative Covid-19 cases stood at 1 928 897 after 15 036 new cases were reported. This meant that the active cases in South Africa were 158 998. The total number of deaths to date were 59 900 after 122 new deaths were reported. The recovery rate was 88.7%.
“As I address you this evening, the situation has gotten worse. Along with many other countries in Africa, South Africa is seeing a massive resurgence of infections. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a third wave of the disease is underway on the continent. To date, African Union Member States have reported over 5.2 million cases and over 138,000 deaths from COVID-19. The COVID-19 virus that descended on our country in March last year has been continuing to mutate, creating new variants,” said Ramaphosa.
He said so far the Delta variant, which was first detected in India at the end of March is now circulating in 85 countries. The president said the variant has now hit our shores as it has been detected in five of our provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape. Gauteng now accounts for more than 60% of new cases in the country, he added.
The main characteristic of the variant, according to experts, is that it is more transmissible than the previous circulating viruses and it is easier to spread through person-to-person contact. So, “because it is more contagious, it can infect far more people. As with the previous variants, you can pass it on without even knowing you have it”, said Ramaphosa, adding alarmingly that, the there is also not much know about the variant yet.
“The rapid spread of this variant is extremely serious. Even if it is not more severe, the rate at which people are infected could lead to many more people becoming ill and requiring treatment at the same time. We need to take extra precautions,” said Ramaphosa.
Buckling under strain
He said the priority is to safeguard the capacity of the country’s health facilities to cope better with rising infections, adding healthcare facilities in several provinces are not coping while private facilities are also bursting at the seams.
“Even as our hospitals have made extraordinary efforts to accommodate patients, ICU beds are in short supply. What we are seeing is that the existing containment measures in place are not enough to cope with the speed and scale of new infections,” noted Ramaphosa. In Gauteng the situation was compounded by the forced closure of the section of Charlotte Maxeke hospital after the fire broke a few months ago with patients having to be moved to other neighbouring hospitals.
Against this backdrop and based on “scientific advice we received from the Ministerial Advisory Committee and further consultation with our provinces and metros and traditional leaders, and on the recommendation of the National Coronavirus Command Council, cabinet has decided that the country should move to Adjusted Alert Level 4”.
He said they have “drawn on international best practice and scientific data from studies across the world, adding that the “priority is to break the chain of transmission by reducing person-to-personcontactand thereby help to flatten the curve”.
- All gatherings – whether indoors or outdoors – are prohibited. These include religious, political, cultural and social gatherings.
- Funerals and cremations are permitted, but attendance may not exceed 50 people and all social distancing and health protocols must be observed.
- Night vigils, after-funeral gatherings and ‘after-tears’ gatherings are not allowed.
- Public spaces, such as beaches and parks, will remain open. However, no gatherings will be permitted.
- A curfew will be in place from 9pm to 4am, and all non-essential establishments will need to close by 8pm.
- The sale of alcohol both for on-site and off-site consumption is prohibited. Our Ministerial Advisory Committee has advised that the limited restrictions previously imposed were not that effective and that a prohibition will ease the pressure that is placed on hospital services by alcohol-related emergency incidents.
- Because of the burden of infections in Gauteng, travel in and out of the province for leisure purposes will be prohibited. This does not include work, business or commercial travel, transit through airports or for the transport of goods.
- If you are currently not in your place of residence, you will be allowed to return home to or from Gauteng.
- Visits to old age homes, care facilities and other ‘congregant settings’ will be restricted.
- Restaurants and other eateries will only be permitted to sell food for take-away or delivery. This is because it is not possible for patrons to wear masks while eating or drinking in these establishments.
- The closure of schools and other educational institutions for the winter holidays will be brought forward. Schools will start closing from this Wednesday, the 30th of June, and all schools will be expected to be closed by the end of the week, on Friday.
- Contact classes at tertiary institutions will end by Wednesday, the 30th of June, with limited access to the institutions. Residences will however remain open. The Ministers of Basic Education and Higher Education, Science and Innovation will provide further details on these arrangements.
Ramaphosa stressed that the measures were designed to “allow as much economic activity to continue as possible, while containing the spread of the virus”. He also emphasised that “it remains mandatory for every person to wear a face mask that always covers their nose and mouth when in public spaces. It is a criminal offence not to do so”.