Ramaphosa said the country would remain on an adjusted level 3 lockdown, but announced additional measures to contain the virus
President Ramaphosa said, The pandemic in our country is now at its most devastating.
The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths is higher now than it has ever been since the first case was recorded in our country in March 2020.
Since New Year’s Day, we have recorded nearly 190,000 new coronavirus infections.
As a proportion of the population, the province with the highest average number of cases over the last seven days is KwaZulu-Natal, followed by Western Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
There are currently over 15,000 people with COVID-19 in hospitals nationally, placing a considerable strain on health facilities, personnel and equipment.
Around a third of all COVID-19 patients in hospitals are on oxygen.
Therefore, there is an intensive focus in our health facilities on increasing oxygen supply and activating field hospital beds.
The President said, let us agree on what it is that we must do – and will do – to overcome this pandemic during the course of 2021.
Firstly, we must do everything possible to slow the rate of transmission and, as we have done before, flatten the curve of infection.
Secondly, we will undertake a massive programme of vaccination so that we can achieve immunity across our population and thereby slow the spread of the virus.
Based on the recommendations of the National Coronavirus Command Council, Cabinet has decided to maintain the country on adjusted alert level 3.
Most of the measures that were announced on 28 December 2020 will therefore remain in place.
• Given the risk of widespread transmission, most indoor and outdoor gatherings will not be permitted. This includes social gatherings, religious gatherings, political events, traditional council meetings and gatherings at sports grounds.
As before, this does not include funerals and other limited exceptions as detailed in the regulations, such as restaurants, museums and gyms.
• Funerals may not be attended by more than 50 people, and there needs to be social distancing, hand sanitising and mask wearing.
• The hours of curfew will now start at 9pm and end earlier, at 5am.
• It remains compulsory for every person to wear a mask in a public space.
• The sale of alcohol from retail outlets and the on-site consumption of alcohol is still not be permitted.
Health services in several parts of the country reported that the prohibition of alcohol sales had significantly reduced the number of trauma cases seen in our hospitals over the New Year period.
It is vital that we continue to protect our health services at this crucial time.
• All beaches, dams, lakes, rivers, public parks and public swimming pools in hotspot areas will be closed to the public. As before, botanical gardens, national parks and other parks where access control measures and entry limitations are already in place may remain open to the public.
President said, I wish to express my appreciation to the religious community in particular for its support and understanding throughout this pandemic.
Not only have faith-based organisations had to limit or adjust the nature of worship and other activities, they have also provided counselling, support, feeding schemes and other social services to communities.
At a time when people need both material and spiritual comfort, it is indeed unfortunate that the restrictions on religious and other gatherings have to remain.
Research has identified several risks that arise from religious services and other gatherings. These include the risks associated with enclosed spaces, large groups, close proximity to others, staying for a long time in one place, and loud talking and singing.
We will continue our discussions with religious leaders on how best to safely meet the desire of many our people to worship in congregation while working together to preserve life.
As schools and other educational institutions prepare to begin the new academic year, there is understandably concern about whether this is advisable in the midst of a second wave of infections.
The National Coronavirus Command Council is dealing with this issue, and we will provide guidance on this matter in the coming days.
Alcohol taps still closed
The sale of alcohol would still be banned under level three lockdown.
“The sale of alcohol from retail outlets and the on-site consumption of alcohol is still not be permitted,” Ramaphosa said.
He said the impact alcohol ban had on trauma units at hospitals was evidence that it should not be lifted. For the first time in its history, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto had an empty trauma unit on new year’s eve night.
“Health services in several parts of the country reported that the prohibition of alcohol sales had significantly reduced the number of trauma cases seen in our hospitals over the New Year period. It is vital that we continue to protect our health services,’ he added.
We have put in place a comprehensive vaccination strategy to reach all parts of the country.
This will be the largest and most complex logistical undertaking in our country’s history.
The first part of our strategy is to acquire enough vaccine doses to reach herd immunity.
We are in the process of procuring vaccines through three channels: through the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, through the African Union’s vaccine initiative and through direct engagements with vaccine manufacturers.
As I have reported before, South Africa is part of the global COVAX facility, in which countries pool their resources to support the development of vaccines with a view to ensure that all countries receive an equitable supply of effective vaccines.
We will receive vaccine doses for around 10 per cent of our population through COVAX.
As the chair of the African Union, we initiated the establishment of an African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to source vaccine doses for the continent. These will be purchased in bulk and African countries will be able to order vaccine doses from this pool.
It is estimated that Africa as a whole will need 1.5 billion doses to immunise the target of 60 per cent of its population.
Through intensive engagement with vaccine manufacturers, the Task Team has done tremendous work to secure vaccine does for countries on the continent.
The South African government has also been engaging directly with several vaccine manufacturers for over six months.
Given the massive global demand for vaccines and the vastly greater purchasing power of wealthier countries, we are exploring all avenues to get as many vaccine doses as soon as possible.
While there are several promising negotiations with a number of different manufacturers that still need to be concluded, we have to date secured 20 million doses to be delivered mainly in the first half of the year.
We will make further announcements as we conclude our negotiations with vaccine manufacturers.
In Phase 1, with the first batch of vaccines, we will prioritise around 1.2 million front line health workers.
In Phase 2, when more vaccines arrive, we will prioritise essential workers such as teachers, police, municipal workers and other frontline personnel. We will also prioritise people in institutions like old age homes, shelters and prisons, people over 60 years of age and adults with co-morbidities. The total number we plan to reach in this phase is around 16 million people.
In Phase 3, with increased manufacturer supplies, we will then vaccinate the remaining adult population of approximately 22.5 million people.
We will then have reached around 40 million South Africans, which is considered to approximate herd immunity.
The third part of our strategy is to distribute the vaccines throughout the country and to administer them to those who have been identified to receive them.
Curfew – The country’s curfew has been shortened by an hour in the morning and will now run from 21h00 – 05h00;
Land borders – The country will close its land borders until 15 February to reduce crowding. These include the six busiest border posts, which are Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Oshoek, Ficksburg and Kopfontein.
There are a number of exceptions to this rule including the transport of fuel cargo and goods, medical attention, the return of South African nationals, and the departure of foreign nationals.
Gatherings – Given the risk of widespread transmission, most indoor and outdoor gatherings will not be permitted. This includes social gatherings, religious gatherings, political events, traditional council meetings and gatherings at sports grounds.
As before, this does not include funerals and other limited exceptions as detailed in the regulations, such as restaurants, museums and gyms. Funerals may not be attended by more than 50 people, and there needs to be social distancing, hand sanitising and mask-wearing.
Schools – Ramaphosa said that the National Coronavirus Command Council will supply further guidance on the return of schools later this month.
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