President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to announce strict new lockdown restrictions in South Africa as a way of curbing the country’s second coronavirus wave.
A member of Ramaphosa’s executive told the City Press that it is unlikely that the entire country will return to a hard lockdown as experienced earlier this year.
Instead, higher restrictions are set to be introduced at a localised level in the country’s coronavirus hotspot areas. The additional restrictions which are being considered include:
- Stricter curfew times;
- Earlier closing times for restaurants;
- Further limitations on gatherings such as funerals
- New rules around beaches.
A virtual cabinet meeting has been scheduled for Sunday (13 December), after which a public announcement is set to be made, the source said.
South Africa reported 7,882 new cases on Saturday, taking the cumulative total of Covid-19 cases in the country to 852,965. The country reported 154 more deaths, bringing the total to 23,106, while recoveries now stand at 760,118.
It follows in excess of 8,000 new cases on Friday.
During his previous national address, Ramaphosa identified three areas in South Africa that were of particular concern for a sharp rise in the number of new infections:
- Nelson Mandela Bay (EC);
- The Garden Route (WC); and
- Sarah Baartman District (EC).
One of the key debates facing Ramaphosa’s task team is closing or limiting access to beaches as they are seen as areas which could lead to superspreader events.
On Friday (11 December), KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said that no formal decision had been taken to close beaches in the province – however, he confirmed that all large events would be prohibited.
“Beaches will not be closed for now – that is the decision we (as a province) have taken. If it comes to push, we might be forced to close (the beaches) for swimming, but allow people to be in and around the beach for leisure.”
Zikalala explained that this eventuality could arise as people are forced to remove their masks for swimming, but not for other activities.
While open spaces such as beaches are largely seen as safe from coronavirus transmission, the premier said that he was concerned about overcrowding on specific days.
These days include:
- 16 December – Day of Reconciliation and a public holiday;
- 26 December – Day of Goodwill and a public holiday;
- 31 December – New Year’s Eve.
Zikalala said that any decision on restrictions will be made by president Cyril Ramaphosa, based on presentations made by his provincial government.
“That is why we are saying that there is no such decision (from national government to close beaches), as the president has made no decision.”
South Africa’s main producers and distributors of alcoholic drinks, meanwhile, are striving to convince the government not to impose a third ban on booze sales to contain the coronavirus, even as the country is seeing a resurgence of infections, Bloomberg reported.
The industry, it said, has made a pre-emptive move to withdraw support for major entertainment events during the festive season, showing a willingness to discourage large gatherings and reduce the burden on hospitals caused by accidents.
That costs the industry revenue, but is seen as better than coping with another shutdown.
“If we have an outright ban, we all know the consequences of that,” Richard Rushton, chief executive officer of wine and spirits maker Distell Group Holdings, said in an interview.
“It’s going to create economic devastation, taxes won’t be collected and people will still gather and do it underground.”
Distell lost 100 million liters in sales volumes and R4.3 billion ($284 million) in revenue in the year through June as a consequence of initial lockdown restrictions.
The ban on alcohol sales has put investment projects worth at least R12.8 billion on hold and South Africa’s government lost billions of rand in taxes, according to the National Treasury data.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize specified this week that young people drinking alcohol at social events was a cause of the virus resurgence. Since the first lockdown, the industry has worked on re-evaluating social programs, targeting issues like drunk driving and underage drinking, Rushton said.
“The announcement that we aren’t going to support any large-scale events is a further demonstration of intent to say look, no one wins through the spread of the virus,” Rushton said. “Our industry was devastated as a result of the first closures.”