AfricaCorona VirusSouth Africa

COVID-19: Rise in cases fuelled by super-spreader events- Ramaphosa

By Oluwaseun Sonde

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The South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the rapid rise in infections of COVID-19 is being fuelled by so-called super-spreader events, like end-of-year functions, family and social gatherings, and music and cultural events.

He made this known on Monday, while addressing the nation on the spike in cases of COVID-19, Ramaphosa said this is a cause for great alarm, and points to an extreme lack of vigilance over the holiday period.

According to him, “We have let down our guard, and unfortunately we are now paying the price. We have not been wearing masks. We are not washing our hands or sanitising. And we are not keeping a safe distance from others.

“We have continued to host and attend social gatherings and events that in many cases flout public health regulations. As has been the case previously, social gatherings substantially increase the risk of transmission. Venues are often poorly ventilated and their permitted capacity is being exceeded. 

“Hand sanitiser is not being used, and masks are being worn to gain entry, only to be taken off once inside. In these same social gatherings, the consumption of alcohol in restaurants, in nightclubs and taverns has contributed to risky behaviour like not wearing masks and not observing social distancing.

“Excessive alcohol consumption is also driving up the number of trauma cases in our hospitals. According to the data we have, with every relaxation of the restrictions on the sale of alcohol, the number of trauma cases reporting at our hospitals has increased”, he said.

Ramaphosa noted that the trauma cases are putting an unnecessary strain on the already stretched public health facilities. “Our hospitals, both private and public, are already close to full capacity in a number of provinces, and ICU beds are either full already or rapidly filling up. 

“In the Eastern Cape, for example, the number of hospitalisations and in-hospital deaths has now surpassed the numbers witnessed in the first surge earlier this year. Several provinces are hard at work to prepare additional beds, ventilators and oxygen to respond to this increase”, he said. 

He further said that during the month of December, 4,630 public sector health employees contracted COVID-19, bringing the total number infected since the start of the pandemic to over 41,000. “They are exhausted, and they are struggling under the strain of the second wave.
“On the recommendation of the National Coronavirus Command Council, and after consultation with provinces and metro mayors, Cabinet has decided to put the country on an adjusted Level 3 from Level 1 with immediate effect.

“Several of the level 3 regulations are being strengthened to further limit the potential for transmission, while doing everything possible to keep the economy open.We have adjusted the restrictions that will apply at level 3 based on the lessons we have learned through our response to date.

“There are four main reasons for this step: Firstly, we want to minimise the risk of super-spreading events even further. As the number of people with active infections rises, there is a greater risk of an infected person without symptoms being present in a gathering and spreading the virus.

“Secondly, we want to decrease unsafe interactions between people. Thirdly, we want to increase the implementation of our five key prevention measures – social distancing, masks, hand hygiene, symptom-checking and testing.

“Fourthly, we want to decrease the burden on health care services so that resources can be directed to meet the needs of COVID-19 and other patients. Under the adjusted level 3 regulations: 

“All indoor and outdoor gatherings will be prohibited for 14 days from the date hereof, except for funerals and other limited exceptions as detailed in the regulations, such as restaurants, museums, gyms and casinos.

“These will further be set out by the Minister in regulations and will be reviewed after that period. Funerals may not be attended by more than 50 people with social distancing. Every business premises must determine the maximum number of staff and customers permitted at any one time based on our social-distancing guidelines and may not exceed that limit.

“The nationwide curfew will be extended from 9pm to 6am. Apart from permitted workers and for medical and security emergencies, nobody is allowed outside their place of residence during curfew.  Non-essential establishments, including shops, restaurants, bars and all cultural venues must close at 8pm.

“The list of these establishments will be released shortly. We now know that the simplest and most effective way to reduce transmission of the coronavirus is to wear a cloth mask that covers the nose and mouth whenever in public.

“Until now the owners and managers of shops and public buildings, employers and operators of public transport have had a legal responsibility to ensure that everyone entering their premises or vehicle is wearing a mask.

“But given the grave danger our country now faces, the adjusted level 3 regulations will make every individual legally responsible for wearing a mask in public.

“From now on it is compulsory for every person to wear a mask in a public space. A person who does not wear a cloth mask covering over the nose and mouth in a public place will be committing an offence. 

“A person who does not wear a mask could be arrested and prosecuted. On conviction, they will be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both a fine and imprisonment. This is a drastic measure but is now necessary to ensure compliance with the most basic of preventative measures.

“We remain particularly concerned about the elderly and those with co-morbidities and ask that they do their utmost to protect themselves from the virus, especially minimising their contact with other people. One of the more difficult areas of regulation relates to the sale of alcohol.

“The liquor industry is a major employer and an important contributor to our economy. Our priority at this time, however, must be to save lives. Reckless behaviour due to alcohol intoxication has contributed to increased transmission. Alcohol-related accidents and violence are putting pressure on our hospital emergency units.

“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. In such a scenario, every piece of medical equipment, every hospital bed, every healthcare worker, and every oxygen tank is needed to save lives.

“Therefore, under the strengthened regulations: The sale of alcohol from retail outlets and the on-site consumption of alcohol will not be permitted. The prohibition on consuming alcohol in public spaces like parks and beaches remains. Distribution and transportation will be prohibited with exceptions that will be explained by the minister.

“These regulations may be reviewed within the next few weeks if we see a sustained decline in infections and hospital admissions. In effect, the adjusted Level 3 regulations will keep the economy open while strengthening measures to reduce transmission.

“With a few exceptions, businesses may continue to operate as long as all relevant health protocols and social distancing measures are adhered to. Night clubs and businesses engaged in the sale and transportation of liquor will not be allowed to operate”.

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