South Africa

Gatherings an ‘easy target’ as government looks at new lockdown restrictions for South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa will meet the National Coronavirus Command Council later this week once he concludes a state visit to West Africa.

The president is only likely to address the nation on any new developments around lockdown restrictions and vaccination mandates on Sunday (12 November), say economists at the Bureau for Economic Research (BER).

In a research note on Monday (6 December), the group noted that while Gauteng has seen a significant increase in Covid-19 cases, the number of hospitalisations and deaths have remained relatively low. This could change in the coming weeks as hospitalisations lag infections, but it also makes it difficult to justify higher lockdown restrictions, the BER said.

The exception could be restrictions on gatherings, with the country’s adjusted level one lockdown currently allowing gatherings of up to 750 people indoors and up to 2,000 people outdoors.

President Cyril Ramaphosa himself has flagged gatherings as a potential cause for concern over the December holiday period. Writing in his weekly open letter to the public on Monday, the president said that South Africans need to be far more diligent in reducing contact with people outside their household.

“Social distancing is difficult as the festive season approaches, but the evidence shows that gatherings – mainly those held indoors – carry the greatest risk of transmission. Many people have been disappointed by the cancellation of some big events in recent days, but it is by far the safest and most responsible thing to do now.

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“Fortunately, we all know what we need to do, such as wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds. Now we just need to make sure that we do these things more consistently and without exception.”

Ramaphosa said the country now needs to significantly up its game on prevention measures to ensure collective safety.

“We should not wait for new regulations before we reduce the size of the gatherings, as research has shown this to be an effective means of reducing the spread of the virus. All public and private facilities, including workplaces, taxis, buses and trains, must ensure adequate ventilation to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Every facility that serves the public has a legal responsibility to ensure that people practice social distancing. We must reinvigorate our masking programme, where we insist on no entry into any public or business facility without a mask.”

Reduce gatherings – but don’t hurt the economy again

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has also called for a reduction in gatherings but warned against further measures which could cause damage to the economy and its recovery.

“The retail, hospitality and tourism sectors which employ almost two million workers cannot afford another festive season under lockdown,” the country’s largest trade federation said.

“Cosatu is disappointed that government did not reduce public gatherings numbers from the 750 indoors and 2,000 outdoors. These should be reviewed and only allowed for events where the necessary vaccinations, health and safety measures are put in place.”

“Any restrictions going forward must be imposed on those who fail to vaccinate. Those who vaccinate must be allowed to move on with life. Incentives and rewards should be used to encourage everyone to vaccinate.”

Read: Ramaphosa on new restrictions and vaccine mandates in South Africa

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