Following the festive season, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced new measures to deal with the rising number of coronavirus infections. Find out the latest developments in South Africa’s planned response to the epidemic.


Resource details:

Publication title: Disaster Management Act: Regulations: Alert level 3 during Coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown
Author(s): Department of cooperative governance 
Publication date: 11 January 2021

What the speech and regulations are about:

Speaking to the country in a virtual “family meeting”, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, outlined where the country stood following the festive break. Ramaphosa detailed the impact of a new coronavirus variant on the country’s infection rate, how hospitals have responded and the government’s planned strategy for dealing with the rising numbers. The address introduced the extension of South Africa’s alert level three. 

Read Ramaphosa’s speech here.
Watch the speech here.
Download the adjusted level 3 regulations here.

Key take-aways from the speech and regulations:

What does ‘adjusted’ lockdown level 3 look like?

Curfew

  • South Africans now have a shorter curfew and must stay home between 21:00 and 05:00. The new eight hour curfew applies to everyone unless someone is attending to a medical or security emergency, or the person has permission from a Cabinet member.
  • Masks and face coverings are still required for everyone over the age of six when out in a public space.
  • Places such as restaurants, movie theatres, gyms and museums should close by 20:00.

Gatherings

  • Social gatherings, including faith-based, sport and political gatherings are prohibited.
  • People can visit recreational facilities such as museums, cinemas and casinos. These are restricted to a maximum of 50 people for indoor venues and 100 people for outdoor venues.
  • Funeral gatherings such as night vigils and after-tears are still prohibited.
  • Funerals are not allowed to continue for longer than two hours and no more than 50 guests can attend. All guests must wear face masks and have to follow social distancing rules.

Alcohol

  • The sale and on-site consumption of alcohol in remains prohibited.

Land border posts

  • All land ports of entry will be closed until 15 February 2021.
  • The transportation of fuel, cargo and goods across these border posts will still be permitted.
  • South African nationals, permanent residents and valid visas holders will be allowed to return to the country during this time. Foreign nationals will also be allowed to leave.
  • Additionally, exceptions will be made for people requiring emergency medical attention, diplomats and daily commuters attending school in South Africa.

What’s new for South Africa’s COVID-19 response?

The new variant

  • The increase in South Africa’s infections is largely driven by the new coronavirus variant 501.v2.
  • This variant was identified in South Africa in November 2020 (Research suggests that the variant emerged in early August in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape).
  • Coronavirus 501.v2 spreads faster than earlier variants of the virus. This explains why more people have been infected in a shorter space of time, Ramaphosa said.
  • Although the new variant spreads faster, there is emerging evidence to suggest that it doesn’t cause more severe illness than the original virus.
  • But the rapidly increasing cases caused by the variant has put increased pressure on hospitals with beds filling up more quickly than during the country’s first wave. 

The situation in hospitals

  • At the time of his speech, Ramaphosa noted that over 15 000 people had been hospitalised nationally with COVID-19.
  • About a third of these patients were on oxygen when he spoke. This increased the need for oxygen supplies in hospitals. 
  • The country’s health facilities, workers and medical equipment are under strain.

What’s the plan of action?

1. Slow the rate of transmission using preventative measures like: 

  • Wearing masks in public places.
  • Avoiding unnecessary contact with other people.
  • Avoiding activities which would increase exposure to the virus. 

2. Vaccinate people to slow the spread of the virus:

  • 67% of the population — around 40 million people in South Africa — need to be immune to the virus to achieve herd or population immunity. This is when “enough of the population is immune to the virus to provide indirect protection to those who aren’t immune, bringing the spread of the virus under control”. 
  • Part 1Acquire enough vaccine doses to reach herd immunity through three channels:
    • The World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility
      • South Africa will receive doses for close to 10% of the country’s population through this agreement.
    • The African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team 
      • This vaccine initiative will acquire doses for the continent in bulk. Individual countries will then order from the pooled collection.
      • Africa needs close to 1.5 billion doses to reach the target of immunising 60% of the continent’s population. 
    • Direct deals with vaccine manufacturers
      • Currently, South Africa has secured 20 million vaccine doses which will be delivered in the first half of the year.
  • Part 2 — Decide who gets vaccinated first:
    • The first batch of vaccines will go to 1.2 million frontline health workers
    • Teachers, police personnel, municipal workers and other essential workers will receive the second batch of vaccines. High risk groups such as people in old age homes, shelters and prisons, people over 60 and those with co-morbidities will also receive this second batch of vaccines. An estimated 16 million people are planned to be reached here. 
    • The final phase of the rollout will target 22.5 million adults in the remaining population.
    • Vaccinations will be administered through hospitals, clinics, outreach services and mobile clinics, and private doctor’s offices, pharmacies and workplaces.

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Aisha Abdool Karim is a senior health reporter at Bhekisisa.