President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday evening to announce the country’s move from alert level 3 to alert level 1. He said this is based on the declining daily infections across the country as well as the success of the vaccine roll out programme.
He said new batch of 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine arrived in the country on Saturday to boost the phase one inoculation campaign which is currently targeting healthcare workers.
Ramaphosa said government is trying to secure sufficient quantities of the vaccine to ensure it reaches more people within the shortest possible time. Over and above the J&J doses, the president announced that the country is set to receive more doses from different manufacturing sources.
“We have recently signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to secure 11 million doses. Of these doses, 2.8 million doses will be delivered in the second quarter and the rest spread throughout the year. We have also secured 20 million doses from Pfizer, which will be delivered from the second quarter,” said president Ramaphosa.
He said in addition, they have secured 12 million vaccine doses from the COVAX facility and are in the process of finalising our dose allocation from the African Union. “We are in constant contact with various other vaccine manufacturers to ensure that we have the necessary quantities of vaccines when we need them,” said Ramaphosa.
He said the provinces have also set up vaccine sites and have also put in place plans to expand the programme as it gains speed. He said the number of sites that will be available for vaccination will be expanded next week from 17 sites to 49 sites.
“Of the 49 sites, 32 will be at public hospitals and 17 sites in private hospitals. This includes sites in rural areas to improve access to rural healthcare workers,” said Ramaphosa.
He said phase two of the vaccine roll out will commence in late April or early May soon after the vaccination of healthcare workers has been completed. Phase two will include the elderly, essential workers, persons living or working in institutional settings and those with co-morbidities.
Ramaphosa said government will be activating more sites for vaccination in the public and private healthcare sector so that we can reach as many people in the shortest possible time.
He said in the main the relaxation of the restrictions was based on the noticeable reduction of admissions to hospitals and significant decline in deaths.
He said last week the country recorded just fewer than 10,000 new infections. A month ago, in the last week of January, he said, the country recorded over 40,000 new cases. And a month before that, in the last week of December, Ramaphosa added, the country recorded close to 90,000 new cases.
“This dramatic decline in cases over eight weeks is due to a combination of the public health measures introduced, changes in behaviour and accumulating immunity in those who became infected in our communities. We were able to emerge from the second wave because most people adhered to the tighter restrictions and observed the basic health protocols, including wearing masks in public and social distancing,” he said.
He said based on an assessment of the current state of the pandemic in the country, cabinet decided to move the country from Coronavirus Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 1. This will mean that:
- The hours of the curfew will now be from 12 midnight to 4am.
- Gatherings will be permitted, subject to limitations on size, adherence to social distancing and other health protocols.
- These include religious, social, political and cultural gatherings.
- The maximum number of people allowed at any gathering is 100 people indoors or 250 people outdoors.
- Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used.
- Night vigils or other gatherings before or after funerals are still not permitted.
- Nightclubs will remain closed.
- The sale of alcohol will be permitted, according to normal licence provisions. However, no alcohol may be sold during the hours of curfew.
- The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence.
- The 33 land border posts that have been closed throughout this period will remain closed, while the other 20 will remain open.
- He said only five airports will be open for international travel with standard infection control measures. And these are OR Tambo, Cape Town, King Shaka, Kruger Mpumalanga and Lanseria airports.
- President Ramaphosa warned that “as we ease restrictions, we cannot let our guard down” saying the few remaining restrictions under Alert Level 1 are meant to maintain low levels of infections and, in particular, to prevent super-spreading events.