The South African government has announced a new ban on alcohol sales and made masks mandatory after a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa reintroduced restrictions on Monday after South Africa became the continent’s first to record one million coronavirus cases.
As well as the mask rule and the alcohol ban, many of the country’s beaches will also be closed.
Ramaphosa justified the raft of new measures by pointing to a ‘rapid rise’ in infections, most by a new strain of the virus feared to be more contagious.
He blamed ‘super-spreader’ social events and an ‘extreme lack of vigilance over the holiday period’ for the surge.
‘We have let down our guard, and unfortunately we are now paying the price,’ the president said during a solemn televised speech.
Africa’s worst-hit country previously banned alcohol sales in March when it was battling its first wave of infections.
Ramaphosa said data showed that ‘excessive alcohol consumption’ leads to an increase in trauma cases reported at hospitals.
Such admissions put ‘an unnecessary strain on our already stretched public health facilities,’ he said, announcing that the new ban would start from midnight.
He said that more than 41,000 health workers have contracted Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
The country’s curfew will now start at 9 pm – from 11 pm previously – while non-essential establishments such as shops, bars and restaurants will close from 8 pm.
All large gatherings – inside or outside – will be prohibited for the next two weeks, except for funerals which will be limited to 50 people.
South Africa passed one million recorded coronavirus cases on Sunday, while it has registered nearly 27,000 deaths.
‘Unless we act now and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced during the first wave and thousands more people will lose their lives,’ Ramaphosa said.
The latest restrictions come days after several countries closed to all travel from South Africa.
Last week, the UK banned all arrivals from South Africa, as well as travel to the nation, after discovering two cases of a mutant Covid-19 strain which is driving a massive second wave among young people in the country.
The new mutant, called 501.V2, was announced in Cape Town earlier this month and is believed to be a more extreme variant than Britain’s new Covid strain which has plunged millions into miserable Christmas lockdowns.
Cases in South Africa have soared from fewer than 3,000 a day at the start of December to more than 9,500 per day, with the mutant accounting for up to 90 percent of those new infections.
More than 8,500 have been hospitalised – surpassing the country’s first wave peak of 8,300 inpatients. AFP