President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced the placement of the country under Adjusted Alert Level 4 for two weeks, due to the worrying increase in the numbers of COVID-19 infections in South Africa.
As of Sunday, the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 infections nationally has overtaken the peak of the first wave in July last year, and will soon overtake the peak of the second wave experienced in January this year.
Gauteng now accounts for more than 60 percent of new cases in the country and with the exceptions of the Northern Cape and Free State, infections are rising rapidly in all other provinces.
“We must all be worried about what we are seeing unfold before our very eyes,” President Ramaphosa said in a live broadcast to the nation.
Under Adjusted Alert Level 4, the following measures are to be in place across the country with effect from tomorrow:
- 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 8 p.m.
- The sale of alcohol both for on-site and off-site consumption is prohibited.
- 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.
- 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.
Government will assess the impact of these interventions after 14 days to determine whether they need to be maintained or adjusted.
President Ramaphosa said the evidence is that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is rapidly displacing the Beta variant, which has been dominant in the country until now.
“We are concerned about the rapid spread of this variant. Firstly, because it is more transmissible than previously circulating viruses, meaning it is easier to catch through person-to-person contact. It is thought to be twice as contagious as the Beta variant.
“Secondly, 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.
“Thirdly, there is now emerging scientific evidence that people previously infected with the Beta variant do not have full protection against the Delta variant, and may get re-infected.
“Fourthly, because it is much more contagious, the measures we have so far adopted to contain the spread of the virus may no longer be sufficient to reduce transmission.”
The Delta variant has now been detected in five of the provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.
President Ramaphosa said the country was in the grip of a devastating wave that by all indications seems like it will be worse than those that preceded it.
“The peak of this third wave looks set to be higher than the previous two. The first wave lasted 15 weeks. The second wave lasted nine weeks. We don’t know how long this one will last, but indications are that it could last longer.”
He said he understood that it was the last thing many South Africans wanted to hear, however, complacency comes at a high price.
“We go to social gatherings with a mask on, but take it off once we are inside. When we meet our friends and loved ones we hug, kiss and shake hands, believing ourselves and them to be safe.
“We must maintain our guard and continue to be careful at all times. We must follow the public health regulations that are there for our own safety and the safety of others,” President Ramaphosa said.
In several provinces, the public health facilities are stretched to their limits and private facilities are also buckling under the strain.
“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,” the President said.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee advised that the limited alcohol 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.
President Ramaphosa said schools will start closing on Wednesday, and all schools will be expected to be closed by Friday.
Contact classes at tertiary institutions will end by Wednesday with limited access to the institutions. Residences will however remain open.
“The measures that we are putting in place now are designed to allow as much economic activity to continue as possible, while containing the spread of the virus.”
The President said most businesses will continue to operate at full capacity and should not be affected.
“Our focus is on limiting social contacts while preserving the economy.”
President Ramaphosa 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,” he said.