South Africa has banned alcohol sales and extended a nationwide curfew, as the country surpassed one million cases of COVID-19. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the new restrictions and said mask-wearing in public will be mandatory.
Ramaphosa justified the new restrictions with a “rapid rise” in infections, mostly from the new strain of the virus that is feared to be more contagious. He put blame towards “super spreader” social events and an “extreme lack of vigilance over the holiday period”.
President Ramaphosa made the damning verdict during a televised speech. “We have let down our guard, and unfortunately we are now paying the price,” he said. The cabinet has decided to move the country from level 1 restrictions to level 3, with immediate effect.
South Africa previously banned alcohol sales in March, during the first wave of infections. According to Ramaphosa, data had shown that “excessive alcohol consumption” leads to an increase in the trauma cases reported at hospitals.
“Reckless behaviour due to alcohol intoxication has contributed to increased transmission. Alcohol-related accidents and violence are putting pressure on our hospital emergency units,” Ramaphosa said.
Such admissions have put “an unnecessary strain on our already stretched public health facilities,” announcing that the new ban would start from midnight. According to Ramaphosa, more than 41,000 health workers have contracted Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Ramaphosa said the increased restrictions were necessary as a surge in infections has pushed South Africa’s total confirmed cases past 1 million.
A nationwide curfew has also been changed to 9pm to 6am, with parks, beaches, dams, rivers and public swimming pools in hot spot areas remaining closed. All large gatherings are banned for the next two weeks, with an exception for funerals which will have a limit of 50 attendees.
Ramaphosa said a number of districts and municipalities had been added to the hot spot list and these areas could be subject to further restrictions. South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections on the continent, with 1,004,413 reported cases and nearly 27,000 deaths. At the end of November, daily cases began to rise rapidly to between 10,000 and 14,000.
“Unless we act now and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced during the first wave and thousands more people will lose their lives,” Ramaphosa said.