President Cyril Ramaphosa last night kept the country under alert level 3 with minor changes to deal with the new variant of the coronavirus as more hospitals buckles under pressure. With the rising daily infections and deaths due to the pandemic the expectation was rife that president Ramaphosa will move the country a notch back to alert level 4.
The address followed meetings with cabinet, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and other stakeholders including the churches, traditional leaders, political parties, business and labour.
Ramaphosa said the while the country has done well to save lives, more still needs to be done to flatten the curve and to substantially curb the infection cases caused by the new variant of the virus.
The president also shared the latest statistics about the COVID-19, saying since the start of 2021, the country has recorded about 190 000 new coronavirus infections. He said more than 4, 600 deaths associated with the pandemic have been recorded so far.
In addition, the country has recorded cumulative number of more than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases, he said. “We have recorded more than 33, 000 deaths and more than 148 000 people have been admitted to hospital,” said president Ramaphosa.
“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,” he added.
The president said currently there are over 15 000 people with COVID-19 admitted in hospitals nationally, adding these are putting enormous pressure on health facilities, personnel and equipment. He said a third of the hospitalised patients are on oxygen, adding greater focus will be on increasing oxygen supply and activating field hospital beds.
Ramaphosa warned against super-spreader events saying South Africans should avoid the three Cs: closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact with others. He said as the various sectors of the country re-opens after the festive break, it is crucial that all places of work should continue to adhere to the existing safety protocols.
He said South Africans should not lower their guards as they have shown in the last 10 months that through their united actions it is possible to impact the direction and extent of the disease.
Most of the measures that remain in place as part of the adjusted alert level 3 include:
- Banning most indoor and outdoor gatherings, given the risk of widespread transmission. 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.
- The hours of curfew will now start at 9pm and end earlier, at 5am.
- It remains compulsory for every person to wear a mask in a public space.
The sale of alcohol from retail outlets and the on-site consumption of alcohol is still not permitted. This follows widespread reports from hospitals across the country that the prohibition of alcohol sales had significantly reduced the number of trauma cases seen in our hospitals over the New Year period, said Ramaphosa.
In addition, all beaches, dams, lakes, rivers, public parks and public swimming pools in hotspot areas will be closed to the public. But botanical gardens, national parks and other parks where access control measures and entry limitations are already in place may remain open to the public.
President Ramaphosa also expressed concern about the levels of congestion at many of the country’s land border posts. “This has exposed many people to infection as they wait to be processed and it has been difficult to ensure that the health requirements for entry into South Africa are met, with many people arriving without proof of COVID-19 tests,” Ramaphosa said.
He said as a result of this, cabinet decided to close the 20 land ports of entry that are currently operating until February 15, for general entry and departure. This, he added, is meant to reduce congestion and the high risk of transmission. The affected ports include the six busiest border posts, which are Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Oshoek, Ficksburg and Kopfontein.
However, people will still be allowed to enter or depart the country for:
- The transportation of fuel, cargo, and goods
- Emergency medical attention for a life-threatening condition
- The return of South African nationals, permanent residents or persons with other valid visas, diplomats
- The departure of foreign nationals
- Daily commuters from neighbouring countries who attend school in South Africa. The full list of exemptions will be contained in the regulations.
President Ramaphosa said the NCCC will provide advice and guidance on whether it is prudent for schools and tertiary institutions to open in the face of the second wave of the pandemic.
He also outlined the country’s vaccine strategy which he admitted will be a complex and logistical nightmare undertaking for the country. He said approximately 40 million people will require the vaccine for the country to reach herd immunity, which translate into 67% of population. He said they have put in place a “comprehensive vaccination strategy to reach all parts of the country” to achieve this target.
The president further said they are in the process of procuring vaccines through three avenues, namely, the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, through the African Union’s vaccine initiative and through direct engagements with vaccine manufacturers. He said South Africa will receive vaccine doses for around 10 per cent of our population through COVAX.
“As the chair of the African Union, we initiated the establishment of an African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to source vaccine doses for the continent. These will be purchased in bulk and African countries will be able to order vaccine doses from this pool. It is estimated that Africa as a whole will need 1.5 billion doses to immunise the target of 60 per cent of its population,” said president Ramaphosa.
He added that the South African government has also been talking directly with several vaccine manufacturers for over six months. “While there are several promising negotiations with a number of different manufacturers that still need to be concluded, we have to date secured 20 million doses to be delivered mainly in the first half of the year,” adding they will make further announcements as they conclude their negotiations with the manufacturers.
The second part of the strategy is to identify the priority groups that need to be vaccinated as we receive vaccine doses throughout the year.
- In phase 1 the vaccination strategy will prioritise around 1.2-million frontline health workers.
- Phase 2 will prioritise essential workers such as teachers, police, municipal workers and other frontline personnel. People in institutions like old age homes, shelters and prisons, people over 60 years of age and adults with co-morbidities will also be targeted in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout that aims to inoculate 16-million people.
- Phase 3, with increased manufacturer supplies, the government aim to vaccinate the remaining adult population of approximately 22.5-million people.