Johannesburg, March 31
South Africa will ban sale of alcohol and restrict religious gatherings for the four-day Easter weekend starting on Friday to prevent the holiday from contributing to a possible spike in COVID-19 infections, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.
Amid widely anticipated changes in the current lowest level one of the lockdown, these new restrictions were the only major adjustment as millions of people prepare for inter-provincial travel and huge religious gatherings for the Christian and Jewish communities over the weekend.
There had been concerns in senior government levels that this would prompt an earlier start to the expected third wave of COVID-19 infections.
“Given the role of alcohol in fuelling reckless behaviour, we will put in place some restrictions over the Easter weekend. To this end, the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will be prohibited this coming Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On-site sales at restaurants, shebeens and bars will be allowed, according to licensing conditions, up until 23:00,” Ramaphosa said in an address broadcast nationwide on Tuesday.
“In recent weeks, we have held consultations with faith communities to find mutually beneficial solutions to the challenges of managing large crowds at religious services. Following this consultation, it has been determined that religious gatherings over this period will be restricted to a total number of 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors,” the President added.
But he also urged all South Africans to avoid gatherings if they are in a vulnerable group, such as the elderly and those with co-morbidities; to remain at home or in small groups; and to avoid being in large crowds and places with poor ventilation.
“We also urge that gatherings should take place in outdoor venues, which are significantly safer than gathering indoors.”
The President said that these measures on the size of gatherings would be reviewed within the next 15 days based on an assessment on the state of the pandemic and the extent of compliance with health protocols.
“We will closely monitor the situation and will respond swiftly to any signs of a resurgence,” Ramaphosa said as he reminded citizens that while the rate of transmission remained stable, they should not let their guard down.
“Caution is needed now more than ever,” he said.
During the past year, South Africa has had over 1.5 million coronavirus infections and more than 52,000 recorded deaths from COVID-19.
Ramaphosa also gave some details of negotiations with vaccine manufacturers as he confirmed that the country is on schedule to vaccinate 412 million people, but did not specify a target date for this.
There has been widespread criticism of the government in recent weeks on its vaccination plans after delays in supplies to the country.
“Although there have been delays in securing vaccine supplies, we are still confident in achieving our vaccination targets.
“The demand for vaccines around the world has become extremely competitive but we are doing our best to secure enough supply for the people of South Africa and the African continent,” Ramaphosa said.
The President also commended pharmaceutical company Aspen, which has set up a vaccine manufacturing plant in the Eastern Cape province to produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
“This is a world-class vaccine manufacturing facility which rates amongst the best in the world. This is a great achievement for South Africa, demonstrating our capabilities in advanced manufacturing. More than half of the capacity of the plant – which can produce 300 million doses a year – has been committed to Africa,” Ramaphosa said. PTI