South Africa will immediately re-enforce a ban on the sale and distribution of alcohol to reduce the volume of trauma patients so hospitals have more beds open to treat COVID-19 patients, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said.
Confronted by surging hospitalisations because of the coronavirus outbreak, South Africa also reinstated a nighttime curfew to reduce traffic accidents and made it mandatory for all residents to wear face masks when in public.
In a nationally televised address on Sunday, Ramaphosa said top health officials warned of impending shortages of hospital beds and oxygen as South Africa reaches a peak of COVID-19 cases. He said some hospitals have had to turn away patients because all their beds are full.
Ramaphosa said since the sale and distribution of alcohol was reintroduced in June, hospitals have experienced a spike in admissions in their trauma and emergency wards.
South Africa‘s rapid increase in reported cases has made it one of the world‘s centres for COVID-19, as it is ranked as the ninth country most affected by the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University. It has reported increases of more than 10,000 confirmed cases for several days and the latest daily jump was nearly 13,500.
South Africa accounts for 40 percent of all the confirmed cases in Africa with 276,242 – an increase of 12,058 in one day. It has recorded 4,079 deaths, 25 percent of which have been in the past week, said Ramaphosa.
“While the surge of infections has been expected, the force and the speed with which it has progressed has, quite understandably, caused great concern,” said Ramaphosa.
“Many of us are fearful of the danger this presents for ourselves and for our families.“
The countrywide curfew mandates that people must not be on the roads between 9pm and 4am local time effective Monday.
Masks have also been declared mandatory with all transport operators, employers, and owners of businesses and buildings now legally obliged to ensure everyone entering their businesses or premises are wearing masks.
Ramaphosa lambasted citizens who have continued to have social gatherings, including parties and overcrowded funerals, saying they contributed significantly to the rapid spread of the virus.
“In the midst of our national effort to fight against this virus there are a number of people who have taken to organising parties, who have drinking sprees, and some who walk around in crowded spaces without masks,” he said.
South Africa imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in April and May, including closing virtually all mines, factories and businesses, and a ban on sales of alcohol and cigarettes. The measures slowed the spread of the coronavirus but South Africa’s economy, already in recession, contracted dramatically, increasing unemployment above 30 percent.
In June, the country began relaxing restrictions to allow millions of South Africans to return to work. The easing of restrictions allowed the sale of alcohol from licenced shops on four days a week.
However, within a few weeks, the country’s number of confirmed cases and hospitalisations increased dramatically, bringing Ramaphosa to reimpose the ban on alcohol sales and other restrictions.
More than 30 percent of South Africa‘s cases are in the economic hub of Gauteng province, which includes the largest city, Johannesburg, and the executive capital, Pretoria.
The tourist centre, Cape Town, also has a high number of cases. Johannesburg‘s densely-populated Soweto township has a high concentration of cases, according to officials.
“We knew that with the easing of restrictions, the number of cases would go up. But what is surprising is the speed with which the case numbers have grown,” said Dr Salim Abdool Karim, who is on the national coronavirus committee that is advising Ramaphosa.
“We can expect to see the numbers of cases and hospitalisations to increase for a number of weeks … By October we may be seeing a decline.”
Africa‘s 54 countries have collectively reported 577,904 cases, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The continent‘s confirmed cases are concentrated in four countries – South Africa, Egypt with 81,158 cases, Nigeria with 31,987 cases, and Algeria with 18,712 cases, which together make up more than 65 percent of the continent‘s total cases.
The number of actual cases in Africa is believed to be much higher as the testing rate is extremely low in many countries.