President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday that he did not know “how long or how severe the third wave will be” as he tightened restrictions in response to increasing Covid-19 infections.

In a national address, Ramaphosa said the country’s lockdown would move up one notch to level 2, which means the night-time curfew will start an hour earlier at 11pm. It also cuts the number of people allowed to gather. No more than 100 people can attend events indoors, while the number for outside was halved to 250.

As reported by Business Day on Friday, the government refrained from more severe restrictions, such as banning the sale of alcohol or closing borders. In keeping with its stance ahead of the Easter holiday, it has placed a greater emphasis on safeguarding economic activity, in contrast to the early days of the outbreak.

In March 2020, SA imposed one of the strictest lockdowns anywhere, with the economy shrinking 7% and losing more than 1-million jobs.

A report this week may show that the unemployment rate jumped to a record 33.4% in the first quarter, according to the median estimate of five analysts polled by Bloomberg before Tuesday’s release by Stats SA.

Hospitalisations due to Covid-19 increased 17% in recent days and the Free State, the Northern Cape, the North West and Gauteng are already seeing a third wave, Ramaphosa said.

A third wave occurs when the seven-day moving average of new cases exceeds 30% of the previous wave’s peak, according to the definition used by the SA Covid-19 Modelling Consortium.

“It is only a matter of time before the whole country enters a third wave ... gatherings are the biggest source of transmission and we urge South Africans to social distance,” Ramaphosa said.

The lack of new restrictions on alcohol sales will come as a relief to an industry that lost billions of rand in previous prohibitions, leading to investment plans being shelved and jobs lost. The local unit of the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, took the government to court. Relations with the industry have since improved, with Heineken, the world’s No 2 brewer, saying it has made a bid for local drinks producer Distell in a deal that could be worth about R33bn.

The daily infection rate is sharply higher than an average of between 1,000 and 1,500 for most of the year, though it is still lower than rates seen at the end of 2020, when daily infections topped 20,000, sparking a new round of restrictions, including an alcohol sales ban and the closure of beaches.

Ramaphosa said cases averaged about 3,700 in the past week, a 31% jump on the previous seven days, which he partly attributed to people becoming more complacent about adhering to health protocols.

“Because rates of infection have been low for some time, and because we are all suffering from pandemic fatigue, we have tended to become complacent.

“We have not been as vigilant about wearing our masks all the time, we have not been avoiding crowded places, and we have been socialising more,” the president said.

The new restrictions come as SA accelerates its vaccination drive, with the government having come under pressure for being slow in getting it going.

He said 67% of health workers had got their jabs and SA was on track to vaccinate 1-million in the next few days.

In May, Business for SA, which was set up to support the government’s response to the pandemic, said reaching those over the age of 60, about 5.4-million people, by the middle of winter could save 40,000 lives. SA is hoping to vaccinate about 40-million people by year end.

“With the acceleration of the vaccine programme, we are getting ever closer to overcoming the pandemic,” he said.

“We cannot give up now. We cannot let down our guard.”

omarjeeh@businesslive.co.za

President Cyril Ramaphosa warned South Africans of a possible third wave of Covid-19 infections on May 30 2021.

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