President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced an extension of the level 3 lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa.
Speaking in an address to the nation on Monday 11 January, Ramaphosa said that the rise in COVID-19 cases has placed a significant strain on the national healthcare system.
“The number of new infections, hospital admissions, and the deaths that continue to take place have become far higher than they have ever been since the first case was recorded in our country,” Ramaphosa said.
He added that South Africa has recorded 190,000 new coronavirus infections since New Year’s Day, as well as more than 4,600 COVID-19-related deaths.
This has placed a severe demand on hospitals around the country, with a third of hospitalised COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen.
Ramaphosa also said the new “South African variant” of the coronavirus discovered in November 2020 spreads much faster than the original coronavirus variant first recorded in South Africa.
“We must not let up on any of the health protocols we have been observing,” he said.
“If anything, the new variant means that we must be more diligent, more compliant and more consistent in following the necessary health guidelines.”
Lockdown extension and curfew changes
“Based on the recommendations of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), Cabinet has decided to maintain the country on adjusted level 3 lockdown,” Ramaphosa said.
Most of the existing restrictions will remain in place, and most gatherings – including social gatherings – will not be permitted.
The hours of curfew have been changed and the national curfew will now begin at 21:00 and end at 05:00, Ramaphosa said.
The sale of alcohol from retail outlets and the on-site consumption of alcohol is still not permitted to alleviate the strain on national hospitals.
“Health services in several parts of the country reported that the prohibition of alcohol sales has significantly reduced the number of trauma cases over the New Year’s period,” Ramaphosa said.
All beaches, dams, lakes, rivers, public parks, lagoons, and swimming pools in hotspots will remain closed.
One important change is that the 20 land ports that are currently open for entry will be closed, with certain exceptions that will be detailed further in regulations.
These changes are summarised below:
- National curfew will now be in place from 21:00 until 05:00 every day.
- Ban on alcohol sales will remain in place.
- Funerals will be limited to 50 people and will require compliance with social distancing and other health guidelines.
- Land ports will be closed for entry, with certain exceptions.
Level 3 lockdown measures will remain in place until the rate of transmission has fallen sufficiently to warrant relaxing restrictions, Ramaphosa said.
He added that the NCCC would determine a plan for the return of learners to schools in the coming days.
South Africa recently secured 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine following extensive negotiations with the Serum Institute of India (SII).
The AstraZeneca vaccine is significantly cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, although it is based on similar mechanics.
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA (messenger-RNA) vaccines that deliver encoded instructions for the body to manufacture antibodies against a key protein present in the coronavirus, the AstraZeneca vaccine encodes these instructions and stores them in double-stranded DNA.
These DNA instructions are then added to an adenovirus, which is designed to enter cells but cannot replicate inside them.
It is important to note that none of the COVID-19 vaccines under consideration by South Africa, including the AstraZeneca vaccine, include the coronavirus itself – only instructions for the body to manufacture antibodies against a protein present in the virus.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said these vaccines would be distributed with priority to frontline healthcare workers in the country, both in the public and private sectors.
“We are happy that the SII/Astra Zeneca vaccine has already been approved by various regulators and is being rolled out in other countries.”
“Therefore, as part of expediting the regulatory process, SAHPRA is applying reliance on that regulatory work,” he added.
He added that the department will now be engaging all relevant stakeholders in order to ensure the efficient and effective roll-out of the vaccine for South African health workers.