JOHANNESBURG: Despite weekend media and political criticism of the government’s sedate approach in dealing with the effects of the third wave of Covid-19, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa last night  announced a tightening of the country’s lockdown regulations in a bid to “flatten the curve”.

Increased restrictions have been put in place for two weeks, effective today in an attempt to stop the rising number of infections and deaths, which according to Ramaphosa, was worse than during both, the height of the second wave in January 2020, and at the peak of the first wave in July 2020.

As part of the restrictions, the President announced that 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 8pm. The sale of alcohol both for on-site and off-site consumption is prohibited.

Because of the burden of infections 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.

The closure of schools and other educational institutions for the winter holidays will be brought forward.

The following measures are effective across the country today, Monday, the 28th of June 2021 until Sunday, the 11th of July 2021.

In an address broadcast widely on national television stations, the President said scientists have provided evidence showing how South Africa was struggling to deal with the rate of new infections with as many as 18 000 cases on Saturday.

Officially, the number of new cases is 18 762 and the cumulative cases is 1 895 905 while the number of deaths is 215 which brings the total to 59 621. The total number of recoveries is 1 690 380. The recovery rate is 89.2%.

But Ramaphosa added that the average number of daily new infections was more than doubling, hospital admissions were rising, and deaths from COVID-19 were increasing by nearly 50 percent, clearly evidence that the situation has worsened.

“The 1st wave lasted 15 weeks. The 2nd wave lasted 9 weeks. We don’t know how long this one will last, but indications are that it could last longer,” Ramaphosa said.

In addition to the increase in infections in South Africa, many nations in Africa, are also experiencing a resurgence of infections, according to statistics from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention which said that the continent was engulfed by the third wave. Thus far, African Union Member States have reported over 5.2 million cases and over 138,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Ramaphosa said the Beta variant COVID-19 virus which first arrived in South Africa in March 2020 has been continuing to mutate, creating new variants.

“Our scientists tell us that COVID-19 virus has many variants. We now have the Delta variant. This variant was first detected in India at the end of March this year, and is now found in 85 countries,” he said.

The Delta variant, which spread like wildfire in India in an alarming manner, has now been found in five of provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape. South Africa’s economic heartbeat in the Gauteng province which has been worse hit with infections and deaths as the third wave escalates.

The Provincial Premier David Makhura has criticised for his poor handling of the pandemic.

Gauteng now accounts for more than 60 percent of new cases in the country, with the exception of the Northern Cape and Free State, infections are rising rapidly in all other provinces, according to Ramaphosa.

“We must all be worried about what we are seeing unfold before our very eyes. Every one of us has a friend, a family member or a colleague who has been infected. There are few in our country who have not had to bury a family member, a friend or a loved one who lost their lives to this disease. We are in the grip of a devastating wave that by all indications seems like it will be worse than those that preceded it,” Ramaphosa said.

Addressing criticism of the slow rollout of vaccine doses – out of 60 million South Africans only 2.7 million have received the dose – Ramaphosa noted that South Africa recently received 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer(PFE.N) vaccine via the COVAX Facility and an additional 1.2 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) vaccine.

In line with a national roll-out plan, over 950,000 health care workers have now been vaccinated across the country and the registration and vaccination of this cohort continues. The second phase of the roll out has also gone well with the drive for the registration and vaccination of the over 60 year old group continuing to yield good results. To date 3.8 million people have been registered on the electronic vaccination database.

The national vaccination programme will continue along three defined streams. The first stream is the general population according to age groups. The next cohort of 50 to 59 year olds can begin registration on the 1st of July and vaccination of this group will begin on the 15th of July. The second stream has already commenced with people working in the basic education sector, with 184,000 vaccinations recorded to date.

The third stream is focusing on police and other security personnel will start to vaccinate this group on the 5th of July. The fourth stream is through workplace programmes in key economic sectors such as mining, manufacturing and the taxi industry.

“We will continue to work with our social partners and communities to reach as many people as possible as quickly as we can,” he promised.