South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says his country will return to stricter lockdown measures in the face of a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases that indicate the virus is “surging again” in Africa’s worst-affected nation.
Positive cases in South Africa in the past seven days were 31 per cent higher than the week before, and 66 per cent higher than the week before that, Mr Ramaphosa said in a live TV address.
He said some parts of the country, including the commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital city Pretoria, were now in “a third wave.”
“We do not yet know how severe this wave will be or for how long it will last,” he said.
From Monday the new measures will include a night-time curfew from 11pm until 4 am, and a maximum of 100 people would be allowed at indoor social gatherings.
“We have tended to become complacent,” Mr Ramaphosa said, warning virus infections were “surging again” at a time when the country moves into its winter months and people were more likely to gather together indoors.
South Africa’s decision to go back to a stricter lockdown reinforces – as the crisis in India has already done so starkly – how the global pandemic is far from over.
“We have seen in other countries the tragic consequences of leaving the virus to spread unchecked,” Mr Ramaphosa said. “We cannot let our guard down.”
South Africa has more than 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 56,000 deaths, more than 30 per cent of the cases and 40 per cent of the deaths recorded by all of Africa’s 54 countries, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The surge in cases also cast more attention on South Africa’s lagging vaccine rollout. Only around 1.5 per cent of the country’s 60 million people have received a vaccine.
South Africa has “secured” more than 50 million vaccines, Mr Ramaphosa said, but currently has only 1.3 million doses in the country that are ready to be rolled out.
More Pfizer-BioNTech doses are expected to arrive next week, and weekly after that, he said. South Africa hopes to vaccinate around 40 million people by the end of the year, a target that looks increasingly unlikely.