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Level 1, yes, but third wave could crash down at any time, warns Ramaphosa

Political parties have welcomed the easing of restrictions in the run-up to local government elections

28 February 2021 - 22:44 By Kgothatso Madisa and Amanda Khoza
Alcohol sales are now unrestricted, except during curfew.
Alcohol sales are now unrestricted, except during curfew.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

South Africans should not discount the possibility of a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Addressing the nation on Sunday, when he lifted most Covid-19 restrictions, President Cyril Ramaphosa said there was a possibility of another devastating wave of infections.

Though this is not imminent, as cases have declined significantly in recent weeks, complacency, especially in the wake of possible new Covid-19 variants, could lead to more trouble.

“The easing of restrictions should not be viewed as a reason to abandon precautions. The threat of a third wave is constantly present, as is the threat of yet more new variants,” Ramaphosa said.

The president said this as he announced SA’s move to alert level 1, which would have an impact on social, religious and political gatherings, the sale of alcohol and curfew.

He said remaining restrictions, such as the continued prohibition of night vigils, closure of nightclubs and mandatory wearing of masks, would go a long way in ensuring the country does not get to the third wave.

“As we witnessed last year, our actions as individuals and as a collective will determine whether and how soon we experience a resurgence of the virus,” Ramaphosa said. “In the meantime, the virus continues to circulate in our families, our workplaces and our communities.”

The second wave of infections last year had a devastating impact on livelihoods and resulted in loss of life.

The health ministry announced shortly after Ramaphosa’s address that 52 new Covid-19-related deaths had been recorded in the past 24 hours, taking the number of fatalities to 49,993. In the same period, 1,168 new cases had been confirmed, taking the country’s cumulative tally of confirmed infections to 1,513,393.

Ramaphosa said the easing of restrictions came because the rate of new infections had significantly dropped from weekly infections of more than 90,000 at the end of December to just less than 10,000 in the past week.

“Driven by a new variant of the virus, the second wave was far more devastating and caused greater loss of life than the first wave. The country has now clearly emerged from the second wave,” the president said.

He announced that curfew would now be from midnight to 4am, while sale of alcohol returns to normal. The only restriction on alcohol sales was that they could not take place during curfew.

Gatherings would also be allowed, subject to strict controls. Indoor events were capped at 100 people and outdoor events at 250, provided social distancing and other health protocols were in place.

Political parties should be pleased, as political gatherings are now permitted, meaning they can kick-start their campaigns ahead of the local government elections later in the year.

While the DA welcomed the move to alert level 1, the party said the country needed to accelerate its vaccination programme.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said: “It is critical that we greatly accelerate our vaccination programme and that government provide clarity on where these vaccines will be coming from, in what quantities and by when. Receiving tiny batches of 80,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines at a time is not the success government is making it out to be. Similarly, claiming to have secured millions of doses means little if there is no committed delivery date. ‘Quarter two’ is not a date.”

Meanwhile, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said this was the time to start talking about how the country was going to hold the upcoming local government elections.

“We welcome anything that is marching towards normality and we must thank the government for the easing of regulations. But the challenge is still with us to make sure that we do not lower our guard,” he said.

He also called on the Electoral Commission of SA to meet political parties to forge a way forward.

“I think they need to convene a meeting of all political parties, and then we invite the health department and scientists to give us their own prognosis as to whether it will be possible to campaign and, if so, how, because some people are not going to allow people to campaign in their homes because they have a fear of infections,” he said.

Holomisa said political parties should not be dictated to about whether the elections would take place. Instead it should be a collective decision by all parties.

IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa said: “Under the circumstances, we welcome the movement of the country from alert level 3 to level 1, as we understand that this was a balancing act to allow the economy to move at a faster speed.

“We also note the conditions under level one and it is a reminder that Covid-19 is still with us and that while we participate in public gatherings, we should continue to observe the health protocols so we do not move back to where we were.”

Hlabisa said permission for the resumption of political activity meant parties could now continue to play an oversight role, especially as the country geared up for local government elections.