South Africa’s president has reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and ordered the closure of all bars as part of new restrictions to help the country battle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including a new variant.
In a nationwide address on Monday, Cyril Ramaphosa also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas.
In addition, South Africa is extending its nighttime curfew by four hours, requiring all residents must be at home from 9pm until 6am, the president said.
“Reckless behavior due to alcohol intoxication has contributed to increased transmission. Alcohol-related accidents and violence are putting pressure on our hospital emergency units,” Ramaphosa said.
“As we had to in the early days of the lockdown, we now have to flatten the curve to protect the capacity of our healthcare system to enable it to respond effectively to this new wave of infections.”
Ramaphosa said the ban on selling alcohol and other new restrictions would take effect at midnight on Monday. They include the mandatory wearing of masks in public, and anyone found not wearing a mask in a public place will be subject to a fine or a criminal charge punishable by a possible jail sentence, the president said.
Ramaphosa said the increased restrictions are necessary because of a surge in Covid-19 infections which has pushed South Africa’s total confirmed virus cases past 1 million.
“Nearly 27,000 South Africans are known to have died from Covid-19. The number of new coronavirus infections is climbing at an unprecedented rate,” he said. “More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve.”
Ramaphosa announced the new measures after a cabinet meeting and an emergency meeting of the national coronavirus command council. He said the new restrictions would be reviewed in a few weeks and a relaxation would only be considered when the numbers of new cases and hospitalisations decrease.
The country surpassed the 1 million mark in confirmed virus cases on Sunday night, when authorities reported that the country’s total cases during the pandemic had reached 1,004,413, including 26,735 deaths.
Like Britain, South Africa is battling a variant of Covid-19 that medical experts think is more infectious than the original. The variant has become dominant in many parts of the country, according to experts.
The South African Medical Association, which represents nurses and other health workers as well as doctors, warned on Monday that the health system was on the verge of being overwhelmed by the combination of higher numbers of Covid-19 patients and people needing urgent care from alcohol-related incidents. Many holiday gatherings involve high levels of alcohol consumption, which in turn often lead to increased trauma cases.
When South Africa previously had a total ban on liquor sales, trauma cases in hospitals dropped by as much as 60%, according to government statistics. When the ban on alcohol sales was lifted, trauma cases went back up to previous levels.
South Africa’s seven-day rolling average of confirmed daily cases has risen over the past two weeks from 11.18 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 13 to 19.87 new cases per 100,000 people on 27 December.
As European Union countries began rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which was approved by the bloc’s regulators last week, Spain said it was setting up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated and will share it with other member countries.
The vaccine will not be mandatory in Spain but Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister, told Spanish TV the best way to defeat the virus was “to vaccinate all of us – the more the better”.
Eight care home workers in Germany were accidentally injected with five doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, local authorities said on Monday – but are suffering no serious ill effects so far.
The seven women and one man, aged between 38 and 54, are employees of a retirement home in the town of Stralsund in north-eastern Germany.
South Korea said on Tuesday it would sign a deal with Moderna to offer Covid-19 vaccines for 20 million people, Yonhap news agency reported citing the presidential office. The nation reported 40 deaths on Tuesday, a daily record.
This comes a day after officials vowed to speed up efforts to launch a public coronavirus vaccination programme as the country detected its first cases of the virus variant linked to the rapid rise in infections in Britain.