South Africa hits grim milestone as it considers tougher restrictions

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said that South Africa hit a ‘grim milestone’ on Wednesday (6 January) after it reported more than 20,000 new Covid-19 cases in a single day.

The country reported 21,832 cases, bringing the total cumulative Covid-19 cases in South Africa to 1,149,591. Recoveries now stand at 929,239 at a recovery rate of 80.8%

A further 844 deaths have been reported, with 452 new deaths reported in the Eastern Cape alone. Mkhize explained that this statistical anomaly was due to a reporting backlog and the reconciliation of data.

“The 452 deaths reported from the Eastern Cape are as a result of data reconciliation dating between May and November 2020 – this includes analysis of community cases where post-mortem swabs were taken for Covid testing and analysis of clinical records where the diagnosis was unconfirmed at the time of demise,” he said. 

“The National Department of Health is engaging the province to investigate the details of the reporting backlog.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s National Corronavirus Command Council (NCCC) met to discuss the country’s Covid-19 situation on Wednesday morning, with sources indicating that further restrictions are being considered.

Bloomberg reported that Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Police Minister Bheki Cele have recommended the country move to virus alert level 4 for 30 days, the sources said. They asked not to be identified as no decision has been taken.

Other officials concerned about the impact harsher restrictions might have on the economy called for the relaxation of measures including the ban on alcohol sales and the closing of the nation’s beaches, the sources said.

The government announced on 28 December it was moving the country to virus alert level 3 from level 1, banning alcohol sales and extending a nationwide curfew to slow the spread of the pandemic.

Legal challenges 

While the business sector has largely expressed support for the government in helping stop the spread of the coronavirus, Ramaphosa’s government is likely to face increasing legal challenges as restrictions continue and companies continue to haemorrhage money.

On Wednesday, South African Breweries (SAB) said it would challenge the constitutionality of South Africa’s latest alcohol ban.

The ban on the sale of alcohol was reintroduced a part of the country’s move to an adjusted level 3 lockdown at the end of December.

“After much consideration, SAB has decided to approach the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the decision taken and process followed by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to re-ban the sale of alcohol.

“This legal action is the last resort available to SAB in order to protect our employees, suppliers, customers, consumers and all the livelihoods we support.”

Government’s decision to appeal a court ruling that last year’s ban on the sale of tobacco products was unconstitutional is also likely to face scrutiny.

The ban emerged as one of the more controversial aspects of South Africa’s lockdown policy, which has been in place at various levels of severity since late March.

While Dlamini-Zuma argued that it eased the burden on hospitals and reduced the prospect of contagion from cigarette sharing, critics highlighted an explosion in black-market sales and a slump in tax revenue for the National Treasury.

The decision is “worrisome” in that it suggests a prohibition that lasted almost five months in 2020 may be reimposed, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association said.

Read: Businesses call for South Africa’s alcohol ban to be lifted – with these alternatives introduced instead

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South Africa hits grim milestone as it considers tougher restrictions