President Cyril Ramaphosa announced minimal changes to the country’s coronavirus strategy even as he sounded the alarm about an acceleration in infections and deaths since the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant late in 2020.
Among the changes announced is the closure of 20 land borders with neighbouring countries, with Ramaphosa citing congestion that had exposed people to Covid-19 infection, while the numbers made it difficult to ensure health requirements for entry were met. The government maintained level 3 of the lockdown and kept the ban on alcohol sales intact, despite facing a court case from beer giant AB InBev, owner of SA Breweries.
The land borders that will be closed at least until February 15 include the six busiest posts, Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Oshoek, Ficksburg and Kopfontein. Bans on indoor and outdoor gatherings, including religious and political gatherings, would remain in place.
Despite discussing the danger posed by funerals as potential super-spreader events, the president said they would still be allowed with up to 50 people able to attend.
The continuing ban on alcohol sales is a blow to an industry that was in an early recovery phase after its 2020 prospects were whacked by the initial total prohibition. This saw Heineken and AB InBev, together with other companies such as glass manufacturer Consol, either pull or delay capital investment plans of about R13bn. The measures are also likely to affect thousands of jobs.
Ramaphosa said the number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths was now higher than in the first phase, with the cumulative number of cases at more than 1.2-million. Since New Year’s Day, SA has recorded nearly 190,000 new infections and more than 4,600 Covid-19 deaths.
Ramaphosa, whose government has come under fire for its failure to pre-order vaccines in line with many other countries, said SA had secured more than 20-million doses, though he did not give details of where they would come from and when they would be delivered.
Negotiations were still under way with several vaccine manufacturers, he said.
“Given the massive global demand for vaccines and the vastly greater purchasing power of wealthier countries, we are exploring all avenues to get as many vaccine doses as soon as possible,” he said.
“While there are several promising negotiations with a number of different manufacturers that still need to be concluded, we have to date secured 20-million doses to be delivered mainly in the first half of the year,” the president said.
Last week it was announced that the state had secured 1.5-million doses of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for health workers from the Serum Institute of India, which will arrive this month and in February.
Ramaphosa said SA was in the process of procuring vaccines from three channels — under the Covax global facility, which will secure vaccines for middle- and low-income countries, through the AU’s vaccine initiative and through direct engagements with vaccine manufacturers.