South Africa tightens COVID-19 restrictions; expert says measures 'inadequate' to stop third wave

Citing gatherings as the biggest spreader, President Cyril Ramaphosa said all meetings will be restricted to a maximum of 100 people indoors and 250 outdoors

Press Trust of India May 31, 2021 16:51:39 IST
South Africa tightens COVID-19 restrictions; expert says measures 'inadequate' to stop third wave

South African Presiednt Cyril Ramaphosa. Image credit: Flickr

Johannesburg: South Africa on Sunday announced that it would strengthen the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions up a level to curb the exponential growth in the deadly viral infection, but a leading expert said the action is not enough to stop the third wave of the pandemic from hitting the country.

The total coronavirus cases in South Africa jumped to 1,659,070 with the detection of 4,515 new infections in the last 24 hours, while 70 more fatalities due to the disease pushed the toll to 56,363.

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In an address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in the country will move up a level from Monday.

Citing gatherings as the biggest spreader of the virus, he said all gatherings, including religious, social, political and cultural will be restricted to a maximum of 100 people indoors and 250 outdoors. Smaller venues will only be allowed 50 percent of their maximum capacity.

Funerals will be limited to 100 people and a maximum of two hours, with no night vigils and so-called 'after tears' parties where alcohol flows freely will be prohibited.

However, leading epidemiologist Prof Shabir Madhi said the measures are not strong enough to stop the third wave, which has already hit four of the nine provinces.

"The type of limitations that have been proposed or recommended by the president are probably inadequate. If we seriously want to slow down the rate of infection of the virus, during the course of the next few weeks, we literally should be banning these sort of mass gatherings," said the director of the South African Medical Research Council Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand.

"Even allowing for 100 people in a poorly ventilated indoor space, it not just those 100 individuals who are at risk of being infected it is the hundreds of other people that they are going to come back into contact with when they go back to their homes or work places that are at risk of being infected, Madhi told TV channel Newzroom Afrika after the president's address to the nation.

Madhi said the current surge in infections was due to the failure of the government to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination programme on time as well as the poor behaviour of citizens in observing protocols such as wearing masks and social distancing at public gatherings.

"The behaviour of citizens unfortunately, and particularly the behaviour at mass gatherings, lends itself to a heightened rate of transmission of the virus, but this is a consequence of a failure in terms of rolling out COVID-19 vaccination.

Had we started vaccinating three months ago, rather than three weeks ago, we would have been in a situation where high-risk individuals would have already got meaningful protection against the severe disease, which is what we want, he said.

Ramaphosa said the provinces of Free State, Northern Cape, North West and South Africa's economic hub of Gauteng have already reached the threshold of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, making it only a matter of time before the entire country is hit by the third wave.

"Because the rate of infection has been low for some time, and because we all are suffering from pandemic fatigue, we became complacent. We have not been as vigilant about wearing our masks all the time, we have not been avoiding crowded places and have been socialising more.

"As a result, infections are surging again. The increase in daily cases is following the same trajectory as it did at the start of the previous two waves, the president said as he urged people to postpone social engagements, avoid public places and not travel unless absolutely necessary.

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