South Africa has returned to tighter restrictions on public gatherings and liquor sales as the country sees a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that the new infections threaten the health systems in several parts of the country and COVID-related hospital admissions have increased 59 percent over the past two weeks.
The nightly curfew has been extended by an hour from 10pm to 4am while religious gatherings indoors are limited to 50 people.
The number of people allowed to gather for social events has been limited to 50 people for indoor events and 100 people for outdoor events.
The retail sale of alcohol will only be permitted between 10am and 6pm local time from Monday through Thursday.
South Africa’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has nearly doubled over the past two weeks from 6.69 new cases per 100,000 people on May 31 to 12.71 on June 14, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“Our priority now is to make sure there are enough hospital beds, enough health workers, enough ventilators and enough oxygen to give the best possible care to every person who needs it,” said Ramaphosa.
“The massive surge in new infections means that we must once again tighten restrictions on the movement of persons and gatherings,” he said.
South Africa has been the country hardest hit by the pandemic on the continent, with a cumulative total of more than 1.7 million infections, including 58,000 deaths, accounting for nearly 40 percent of Africa’s total confirmed cases.
The new restrictions come as South Africa also battles to sustain a vaccination drive that has faced delays from global vaccine shortages and this week the news that it must discard two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to factory contamination in the United States.
Johnson & Johnson had promised to deliver two million of its single-shot doses by the end of June, but that is now viewed as in jeopardy because of the recent ruling by the US Food and Drug Administration that a large amount of J&J vaccines were contaminated by a problem at a factory producing a component of the vaccine.
About 480,000 of South Africa’s healthcare workers have been vaccinated with J&J doses.
Doses of the Pfizer vaccine are being used to inoculate people aged 60 and over. About 1.4 million people have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
According to Ramaphosa, South Africa is expecting to receive 3.1 million Pfizer doses by the end of June.