Push for more lockdown restrictions as South Africa tries to balance lives and the economy

Much of South Africa’s domestic focus over the last week has been on the worrying trajectory in new Covid-19 cases, especially in Gauteng, as well as the government’s decision to move the country back to alert level 3 of lockdown restrictions.

Similar to the approach during South Africa’s second wave, the government seems to have tried to find more of a balance between restricting movement and gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus, while at the same time allowing the economy to operate as normally as possible, said economists from the Bureau for Economic Research (BER).

Level 3 brings forward the start of the curfew by one hour to 22h00, and gatherings are now limited to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, from a 100- and 250-people limitation previously.

The adjusted level 3 lockdown puts restrictions on the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption from Friday to Sunday.

On-site alcohol sales are still allowed, but must halt at 21h00 as non-essential establishments have to close then to ensure that patrons and employees can travel home before the start of the curfew.

Unlike some of the previous bans, on- and off-site sales of alcohol at registered wineries, wine farms, micro-breweries and micro-distilleries may continue.

“This is perhaps a recognition of the hardship experienced by the sector and an example that the government seems more mindful of the economic impact of restrictions, especially as government funds to support the sectors hardest hit by lockdown restrictions have largely dried up,” the BER said.

However, given the rapid rise of infection numbers in especially Gauteng, some health experts have already called for an even stricter limitation on gatherings, the group said.

The South Medical Association (SAMA) has already criticised the government’s response to the country’s third wave of Covid-19 infections, which it warns is likely to be worse than the first two.

In a series of media interviews this past week, the group said that stricter lockdown measures need to be implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus or else the country risks losing the fight against the pandemic.

“There should be tighter restrictions on gatherings, people should stay at home as much as possible, we need to look at the schools again, especially in Gauteng,” said SAMA chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee.

“If you want a bed in Gauteng you are going to struggle so this is what we’re seeing and if we want to get out of this we need to make tough decisions. But it seems like it’s not going to happen so for now it is what it is and no one should be astonished if the numbers go up.”

Gauteng concern

On Friday (18 June), the government announced that it would deploy the military to assist in hospitals as well as with mass testing and contract tracing in Gauteng.

The province has been the epicentre of the (initial phase) of the third wave in SA, with the latest daily case counts exceeding those seen during the peak of the first and second wave,the BER said.

“The seven-day average of new cases in the province is now about 30% above the previous peak.

Gauteng residents over the age of 60 are now encouraged to visit centres to get jabbed, even without registrations or scheduled appointments, but some reports suggest that many remain hesitant to get vaccinated or are unable to reach centres.

“While vaccine hesitancy is a global worry, it is especially concerning to see local reports of it already as the share of the total population currently (partially) vaccinated still is very low.”

Gauteng is at the epicentre of South Africa’s third wave of Covid-19 infections, with hospitals warning of diminishing bed capacity as active cases escalate.

The country recorded 37,240 new cases over the weekend (Friday to Sunday), almost two thirds of which were in Gauteng. Daily infections in the province have surpassed the numbers seen in the first and second waves. People in the province have been urged to act as if they are in a tighter lockdown than is currently set nationally, to prevent further spread of infection.

While the provincial health department assures that the situation is under control, private hospitals say they are running out of space.

As of Sunday 20 June, there have been 13,155 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported in South Africa to 1,823,319. Deaths have reached 58,702 (+112), while recoveries have climbed to 1,647,503, leaving the country with a balance of 117,114 active cases.

The total number of vaccines administered is 2,141,624.

Read: South Africa to deploy military to help with Covid-19 third wave

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