Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PHILL MAGAKOE
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/PHILL MAGAKOE

SA has entered its second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, driven by rising infections in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, health minister Zweli Mkhize has said.

SA had only seen cluster outbreaks in some areas, fuelling hope that the country, set for its biggest economic slump in about a century, would be spared new damaging restrictions that have been seen in other parts of the world. The situation has since worsened, with 6,709 new cases on Wednesday, a sharp increase from September when daily infections fell as low as 1,000, Mkhize said.

It is unclear whether the government will institute more stringent curbs on activity, having recently opened up after a hard lockdown from March that led to the loss of more than 2-million jobs in a country that was already battling record unemployment. SA is only now showing signs of a nascent recovery, with third-quarter GDP jumping by an annualised and seasonally adjusted 66%.

Rand rally

Together with optimism over the development of vaccines, that has been among the factors that have driven sentiment in markets and pushed the rand to its strongest level in about 10 months.

In a media briefing on Wednesday evening, Mkhize did not give a direct answer on whether SA will face stricter restrictions as the country goes into the festive season, a period the tourism industry was looking forward to after the devastation it suffered earlier in 2020.

Proposals will be made to the national coronavirus command council, after which decisions will be taken by the cabinet and communicated by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Relaxing the restrictions of the lockdown created much-needed breathing space for the economy. SA’s borders were fully opened a month ago.

Comair, the operator of and BA flights in SA, returned to the skies at the start of December, after the last lockdown forced it into bankruptcy protection.

Since SA hit its peak earlier this year, infections in the country had plateaued and remained under control even as the economy was progressively opened, but over the past few weeks there has been a resurgence of infections in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape was declared a hotspot last week and subjected to stricter measures introduced to curb the spread of the virus in the metropolitan municipality.

Ramaphosa raised concerns about the Saartjie Baartman District Municipality in the Eastern Cape and the Garden Route in the Western Cape during his address to the nation last week.

Mkhize has completed visits to the areas that were also seen as possible hotspots and will now submit recommendations for cabinet decision-making.

Mkhize said requests have been made to all provinces to make suggestions on what needs to be done to manage the festive season.

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Mkhize said South Africans had to understand that they had the responsibility to enjoy the festive season with restraint.

Mkhize said the age group of 15- to 19-year-olds had the highest proportion of cases over the past two days, and this was due to a large number of parties involving young people drinking alcohol and not adhering to non-pharmaceutical measures.

There was a huge concern as this age group was highly mobile and the majority of the carriers were asymptomatic.

"If this trajectory continues, our health-care services will be overwhelmed," the health minister said.

He said it was as a result of this that recommendations being tabled by provinces were centred on how to contain large gatherings and parties.

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