Alcohol sales have been banned again – this time with immediate effect – and the night-time curfew has been reinstated as the government steps up measures to curb the rapid spread of Covid-19.
This was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address to the nation on Sunday night, in a week during which Covid-19 cases reached 276,244 across the country and with 4,079 people having died from the disease.
Ramaphosa said it was decided after several meetings of the cabinet and the national coronavirus command council to keep the country at alert level 3 of the national lockdown. However, it was decided that some of the restrictions that were in place under lockdown levels 5 and 4 needed to be reinstated.
Among the restrictions to be brought back is the immediate prohibition on the sale of alcohol and a night-time curfew confining people to the indoors between 9pm and 4am. The government would also make it compulsory to wear face masks in public areas.
“Employers, shop owners and managers, public transport operators, and managers and owners of any other public building are now legally obliged to ensure that anyone entering their premises or vehicle must be wearing a mask. All workplaces and all institutions need to ensure that there is a designated coronavirus official responsible for making sure that all regulations and all precautions are strictly adhered to,” the president said.
Ramaphosa said the government was immediately suspending the sale of alcohol, as this has proven to be a burden on the health care system.
“We have therefore decided that to conserve hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect. There is now clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence and related trauma.
“Most of these and other trauma injuries occur at night. Therefore, as an additional measure to reduce the pressure on hospitals, a curfew will be put in place between the hours of 9pm and 4am,” he said.
But there was one surprise decision from the president: minibus taxis will be allowed to operate at 100% capacity at a local level, but will be limited to 70% for long-distance trips.
Ramaphosa said to curb the spread of Covid-19 in this sector, minibus taxis must operate with windows open, as scientific evidence had shown that the virus is airborne in confined and densely populated spaces.
“We are taking these measures fully aware that they impose unwelcome restrictions on people’s lives. They are, however, necessary to see us through the peak of the disease. At the same time, we have decided to ease restrictions on activities that pose a lower risk of infection and are important for economic or educational purposes,” he said.
The president has also warned that social visits – even among immediate family members – remained strictly prohibited.
“After careful consideration of expert advice, there are still some activities that present too much of a risk to permit at this stage. For this reason, family visits and other social activities will unfortunately not be allowed for now. I know that this places a great burden on families and individuals and can cause great emotional strain, especially for those with elderly parents. It goes against our very nature as social beings.
“But it is a hardship that we must endure for that much longer to protect those we love and care for from this disease,” he said.
Cabinet has also extended the national state of disaster until the middle of August.
“To ensure that we have the means to continue to respond effectively to this severe health emergency, cabinet has approved the extension of the national state of disaster to the August 15, 2020. There is no way that we can avoid the coronavirus storm. But we can limit the damage that it can cause to our lives,” said Ramaphosa.
The reintroduction of some restrictions will be welcomed by provincial governments, particularly the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
Gauteng this week overtook the Western Cape as the epicentre of the coronavirus.
Ramaphosa said Gauteng was fast approaching 100,000 coronavirus cases, and the Western Cape approaching 80,000 cases. The Eastern Cape passed the 50,000 mark.
“As of this evening, there are 276,242 confirmed cases in the country. We are now recording over 12,000 new cases every day. That is the equivalent of 500 new infections every hour. Since the start of the outbreak in March, at least 4,079 people have died from Covid-19.
“What should concern us most is that a quarter of those who died passed away in the last week,” Ramaphosa said.