South Africa will over the next two weeks remain on Adjusted Alert Level 4 of the COVID-19 regulations, albeit with minor adjustments, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.
Among the adjustments was that schools would now reopen on 26 July, a week later than initially planned. Restaurants will now be able to serve patrons but not host more than 50 customers at a time. Smaller restaurants will have to keep to a maximum of 50% of its capacity.
Addressing the nation, the President said for the last two weeks, the country had consistently recorded an average of nearly 20 000 daily new cases. As of Sunday, the country had over 200 000 active COVID cases.
“In the last two weeks, over 4 200 South Africans have lost their lives to COVID-19,” he said.
Gauteng, he said, continues to be the country’s epicentre, accounting for more than half of new infections. However, cases were rapidly increasing in the Western Cape, Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal.
“Our health system countrywide remains under pressure. Daily hospital admissions across the country are likely to reach the levels observed during the peak of the first two waves. COVID-19 related deaths in hospitals are also increasing,” he said.
Deaths in hospitals had already surpassed those observed at the peak of the first two waves.
Until 25 July, all social, political, religious and other gatherings would remain prohibited as would the curfew between 9pm and 4am.
Only those with permission to do so may leave their homes during this time. The sale of alcohol also remains prohibited.
“Schools will remain closed until the 26th of July.
“It remains mandatary in other words, compulsory to wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. Whenever you are in public.
Other adjustments to the alert level include that gyms and fitness centres would now open while activities such as agricultural livestock and game auctions could proceed, subject to the conditions outlined in regulations, since the onset of the pandemic.
SA guided by advice of experts
The President reiterated that the country’s response had been guided by the latest available evidence and advice of experts.
“And this is what we know; we know that reducing the instances where people are in close proximity to others helps to contain infections.
“We know that the Coronavirus spreads at funerals, in office meetings, at parties and family occasions, and restaurants, and that is why we have Adjusted Alert Level 4. We have had to prohibit religious, social and political gatherings. We also know that as more people move the virus moves with them, and spreads,” he said.
“We know that curfews reduce movement and limits the late night social gatherings that increase the potential for transmission. We know that restrictions on alcohol sales reduce the number of admissions at hospitals and emergency rooms with alcohol related trauma, such as motor vehicle accidents and interpersonal violence.”
Reducing alcohol frees up hospitals
He said reducing alcohol harm frees up much needed capacity in health facilities to deal with COVID-19 cases, saying alcohol abuse was also associated with gatherings and non-adherence to public health regulations.
“At the same time, we know and recognize the vital contribution of the alcohol industry to our economy,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, the most important measures to limit transmissions are those that are within an individual’s control.
“The Delta variant is more transmissible. We need to be far more diligent in following the basic precautions with which we are all familiar with, as we implement measures to limit the number of infections. We are acting to protect as many people as possible through vaccination.”
SA’s vaccination programme
Turning attention to the country’s vaccination programme, President Ramaphosa said this was expanding.
To date, over 4.2 million people in South Africa have received a vaccine dose, with one million of these having been done over the past seven weekdays.
“The pace of vaccination has more than doubled in the last month, and will continue to increase,” he said.
Presently, South Africa was on average inoculating 190 000 each weekday.
The President said government and the private sector were working together in an unprecedented way to build additional capacity to vaccinate many more people a day.
Currently, the vaccination programme is administering jabs on the 60+ and 50+ age groups.
From Thursday, the over 35 age group will be able to register on the Electronic Vaccination Data System and begin getting vaccinations on 1 August.
The programme was also inoculating essential workers in basic education, the police and the defence force.
“We are working to ensure that vaccination sites are located closer to where people live to make it easier for them. We will continue to work with community, religious and traditional leaders to mobilise communities to get vaccinated,” the President said.
Plans are in place in all provinces to expand many sites to vaccinate either six or seven days of the week.
He said this would be achieved by the provision of funds for overtime and the recruitment of additional medical staff and health science students.
President Ramaphosa urged all those who qualify for vaccination to pre-register to speed up the process at vaccination sites.