Ramaphosa eases lockdown restrictions as vaccine arrives

Picture: @GovernmentZA, Twitter
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President Cyril Ramaphosa has addressed the nation about the arrival of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. He also announced the easing of certain lockdown restrictions as the second wave of infections subsides in the country.

Ramaphosa said South Africa has recorded its lowest daily infections since the beginning of December last year.

“The average infection rate has been coming down in the last three weeks indicating that we’ve passed the peak of the second wave,” he said.

“At the peak of the second wave we recorded over 2 300 admissions in a day, this has dropped to 295 by the 29th of January,” he explained.

The vaccines have arrived

“One million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have arrived in SA from India. The speed and scale at which new vaccines are being produced is unprecedented in human history.

“Vaccines will be tested at National Control Centre to ensure their integrity has been maintained during travel.”

Ramaphosa said all healthcare workers in public and private sectors will be prioritised for vaccination and vaccines will be distributed to some 200 facilities throughout the country.

He said the next phase will be to those over 60 years, those with co-morbidities, those living in nursing homes and hostels and phase three will be to the rest of the adult population.

“Vaccines will be sourced from a number of suppliers: 500 000 more doses from the Serum Institute in India will arrive later this month. 12 million doses in total will come from the Global Co-vax Facility of the WHO – 2 million of which will be released in March,” the President added.

“Nine million doses of vaccine will come from Johnson and Johnson in the second quarter. These will be produced in Nelson Mandela Bay. 20 million doses will come from Pfizer in second quarter,” he said.

The President explained that government is in advanced negotiations for additional supplies of the vaccine and the African Union is also negotiating with manufacturers for entire continent through a pooled basis.

Ramaphosa: “We aim to secure enough doses to reach herd immunity. Scientists predict SA will reach this point once 67 percent (44 million people) are vaccinated.”

He said government will leave no stone unturned to reach herd immunity by vaccinating 40 million South Africans.

He said vaccines being procured have gone through meticulous testing and will be provided to all adults living in SA irrespective of their residence status.

“Nobody will be forced to take the vaccine”

Ramaphosa added: “Nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be given this vaccine against their will, neither will the vaccine be administered in secret or in dark corners. Any rumours to this effect are false and dangerous.”

The President revealed that that the new daily average of Covid-19 infections now 5500, compared to 10 000 daily infections in previous seven days. SA has passed the peak of the second wave.

He said there is still a relatively high rate of Covid-19 transmission and no walk on the beach or picnic in the park is worth the loss of life before thanking South Africa for enduring the restrictions.

Ramaphosa said he’s acutely aware that the restrictions have cost jobs, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sector.

He then announced that Cabinet has decided to ease a number of restrictions under the adjusted Level 3 lockdown

  • Hours of curfew now from 23:00 to 04:00.
  • Establishments will need to close by 22:00 to allow their customers and staff to return home by curfew.
  • Faith-based gatherings will be permitted, subject to health protocols.
  • Such gatherings may not exceed 50 people for indoor venues and 100 persons for outdoor venues. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50% of the capacity of the venue may be used.
  • Public places such as beaches, dams, rivers, parks and public swimming pools will be reopened subject to health protocols.
  • Restrictions on the sale of alcohol will be eased.
  • The sale of alcohol by licensed premises for off-site consumption will be permitted from Mondays to Thursdays, from 10:00 to 18:00.
  • Duty-free shops, registered wineries, wine farms, micro-breweries and micro-distilleries will be able to sell alcohol for off-site consumption during their normal licensed operating hours.
  • The sale of alcohol by licensed premises for on-site consumption – such as restaurants and taverns – will be permitted throughout the week from 10:00 to 22:00.

Ramaphosa said these changes have been made possible by the significant reduction in COVID-19 hospital admissions across all provinces, reducing the pressure on beds and hospital personnel.

“I want to call on all of us to drink responsibly so that we do not experience a spike in trauma cases or an increase in infections due to reckless behaviour. As we ease restrictions once again, the responsibility on each and every one of us as individuals becomes even greater,” he said.

The President urged South Africans to remember that despite the clear progress they have made, the number of new cases is still high and there is an ever-present danger of a resurgence.

Country will maintain certain alert level 3 restrictions

“It is therefore necessary to maintain the country on coronavirus alert level 3, indicating the continued high risk of transmission. Several prevention measures will remain in place,” he explained.

These include:

  • Social gatherings, political events, traditional council meetings and gatherings at sports grounds will not be permitted.
  • This does not include religious gatherings and funerals and other limited exceptions as detailed in the regulations, such as restaurants, museums and gyms.
  • Funerals may not be attended by more than 50 people, and there needs to be social distancing, hand sanitising and mask wearing.
  • It remains compulsory for every person to wear a mask in a public space.

Ramaphosa said even as we roll-out the vaccination programme throughout the year and as we steadily work to reduce the number of new infections, we will need to continue to observe careful precautions to reduce transmission.

“This is particularly important as the new variant of the virus – 501Y.v2 – is now widespread across the country. We know that it is more infectious than the earlier strain and is therefore far more likely to drive another resurgence of infections and increase the demand on our health facilities,” the President said.

He said government also knows much more about the patterns of infection

“If a member of a household has Covid-19 and hygiene measures are not implemented, the chances are high that infection will spread to persons in the same household. Therefore, people who discover that they have been exposed to the virus or are COVID-19 positive should isolate at home away from other members of the household or, if this is not possible, go to a government quarantine site,” he explained.

The President said being in crowded places or spending time in closed, unventilated spaces dramatically increases the risk of contracting the virus.

“For this reason, you must avoid indoor spaces wherever possible and open windows to limit the spread of the virus through the air. Research has shown that the risk of transmission of the virus is almost twenty times higher indoors than in outdoor settings,” he said.

The President urged all South Africans to keep a safe distance of 1.5 metres from other people at all times and asked employers to allow their employees to work from home wherever possible.

“Remember, even if you do not have symptoms, you can still pass the virus to other people. So wear a mask and ensure that your mask covers your nose and mouth whenever you are in a public place. If you must have interactions with friends and family do so outside,” Ramaphosa said.

The Cuban Medical Brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

Ramaphosa’s speech continued: “Fellow South Africans, since the very first case of Covid-19 was discovered in our country, we have mobilised all of the resources at our disposal to protect the lives and livelihoods of all South Africans.

“We have been extremely fortunate to receive support from all over the world. This evening, I wish to recognise in particular the selfless and unwavering assistance of the government and people of Cuba.

“True to its history, this small island nation has demonstrated solidarity with the hardest hit countries and sent more than 3,700 Cubans throughout the world to assist in the fight against Covid-19.

“In recognition of this effort, the South African Cabinet has approved a proposal to nominate the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialised in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics – or as they commonly are known, the Cuban Medical Brigade – for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

“In Africa alone, the Brigade had treated more than 38,000 people by the end of November 2020. They are currently still active in many countries, including here in South Africa.

“We extend our sincerest gratitude to the people of Cuba for this great demonstration of solidarity and humanity.

“Like so many people around the world, we have suffered tremendous loss and endured great sacrifices.

“Our lives have changed in profound ways, and we have been forced to adapt to a new and difficult circumstance.

“Now, thanks to the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers, the tireless work of our scientists, the bravery of all our frontline workers and the determination of each and every South African, we can finally imagine a world where the virus has been brought under control.

“It is up to all of us to bring that world into being. It is up to us not to let down our guard, and to prevent a third wave of infections. It is up to us to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. It is up to us to get vaccinated as soon as we are eligible and stop the virus from spreading further.

“Above all, it is up to all of us to keep the flame of hope alive, to remain determined in our commitment to one another and to our country. Together, we will recover and rebuild.

“May God Bless South Africa and protect her people.”