By Hannatu Sadiq
South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday re-imposed restrictions for two weeks to combat a surge in the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant.
The worst-hit country on the continent “is facing a massive resurgence of infection, our health facilities are stretched to the limit… ICU beds are in short supply,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.
Following the address, he placed the country on alert level four, just one level below a full lockdown.
All forms of gatherings are now banned, except for funerals where numbers will be limited to 50. The President also ordered a ban on the sale of alcohol.
Eateries and restaurants will not be allowed to serve sit-down meals, and will only be allowed to sell food for take-away or delivery.
A night-time curfew has been lengthened by an hour – starting at 9pm till 4am, while all schools to be shut by Friday.
Authorities say the peak of the third wave — fueled by the Delta variant first identified in India — will surpass that of earlier waves as the country struggles to quickly roll out vaccinations.
“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.
After recording 15,036 new cases on Sunday, South Africa now counts 1,928,897 coronavirus cases with the Covid-19 death toll standing at 59,900.
The province of Gauteng which accounts for around 60 percent of national infections, has become the epicenter of the outbreak. Leisure travel in and out of the densely populated province — encompassing Johannesburg and Pretoria, the nation’s economic and industrial heartland — has been barred.
The country has seen a slow vaccination drive. Around 2.7 million people have been immunized since February, but President Ramaphosa said the vaccination exercise has gained full force.
Meantime most business will forge ahead operating at full capacity, a move he said was to enable as much economic activity to continue as possible.
The economy of Africa’s most industrialised country slumped by seven percent in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Health officials across the world have been alarmed by the rapid spread of the Delta variant.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that the Delta variant had reached at least 85 countries.