South Africa has introduced tighter Covid-19 restrictions for two weeks after containment measures proved insufficient to cope with the speed and scale of new infections, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.
“Additional restrictions are necessary… Our focus is on limiting social contacts while preserving the economy,” Ramaphosa said on Sunday in a televised address to the nation.
The country, the worst-hit on the African continent in terms of recorded cases and deaths, is in the grip of a “third wave” of infections.
It recorded almost 18,000 new cases on Saturday, approaching the peak of daily infections seen in a second wave in January, and local scientists say the Delta coronavirus variant first identified in India seems to be spreading fast.
Under the measures which take effect from Monday, all gatherings will be prohibited, there will be a curfew from 9pm to 4am and the sale of alcohol will be banned.
Schools will start closing from Wednesday but beaches and parks will remain open. Restaurants will only be able to sell food for takeaway or delivery.
“We will assess the impact of these interventions after 14 days to determine whether they need to be maintained or adjusted,” Ramaphosa said.
So far the vaccine rollout in South Africa has been slow, with only around 2.7 million doses administered among a total population of 60 million.
On Friday, several thousand supporters of a leftist party demonstrated outside the offices of South Africa’s health regulator to protest against the slow coronavirus vaccine roll-out.
Faced with the protests, the government has set a target of more than doubling the rate of daily vaccinations over the next month.
Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said at a news conference following the protests that it was irresponsible to hold marches and other large gatherings while infections were surging.
South Africa’s immunisation efforts were set back by the revelation that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is much less effective against the dominant local coronavirus variant, and the government subsequently found it hard to access supplies from other manufacturers.
So far, only 2.5 million vaccinations have been administered using either the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the two-shot Pfizer alternative.
Nicholas Crisp, a senior health official, said the vaccination target for this week was 150,000 a day. The aim for mid-July was 200,000, and 250,000 by the end of that month.
“The president has asked us to chase a target of 300,000 a day,” he said.
Kubayi-Ngubane said Pfizer had delivered nearly 4.5 million vaccine doses in the second quarter and had committed to provide just over 15.5 million doses in the third quarter.
J&J has delivered 500,000 shots for a research study targeting healthcare workers.
A further 500,000 J&J doses are expected soon, but the timing is not yet confirmed.
“With this flow of vaccines, we will be able to press ahead with the vaccination of frontline workers sector by sector,” she said.
According to the latest official data South Africa has recorded 1,928,897 positive cases and 59,900 covid-related deaths.