Some booze banned but church doors opened as Ramaphosa makes tactical adjustments to lockdown level 1

The changes, Ramaphosa said, were aimed at guarding against a possible Covid-19 third wave precipitated by the Easter weekend — with slight adjustments made rather than blanket changes

31 March 2021 - 05:30 By zimasa matiwane
President Cyril Ramaphosa during his address to the nation on Tuesday night.
President Cyril Ramaphosa during his address to the nation on Tuesday night.
Image: Siya Duda / GCIS

There were Easter wins and losses for South Africans on Tuesday night, as President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that government had decided on a partial prohibition on alcohol sales but had allowed bigger religious gatherings.

These measures, Ramaphosa said, were aimed at guarding against a possible Covid-19 third wave precipitated by the Easter weekend — with tactical adjustments to existing lockdown regulations put in place, rather than blanket changes.

Ramaphosa on Tuesday imposed new restrictions on alcohol sales, banning off-site buying for four days. However, religious congregations received a perhaps unexpected lifeline with a relaxation in the number of congregants allowed to gather. Non-religious gatherings were also permitted, with the same number of attendees.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would remain on alert level 1 but will endure some alcohol restrictions during the Easter long weekend. During an address on March 30 2021, Ramaphosa also updated the nation on the vaccine rollout, saying the second phase of vaccinations would begin in May 2021.

Explaining the decisions, Ramaphosa said: “Given the role of alcohol in fuelling reckless behaviour, we will put in place some restrictions over the Easter weekend. The sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will be prohibited this coming Friday to Monday. Just those four days. On-site sales at restaurants, shebeens and bars will be allowed, according to licensing conditions, up until 11pm.

“The Easter weekend is a time of spiritual significance, and attending religious services is important to millions of people. For Christians, congregational worship is an important part of celebrating Easter. The Jewish community is currently celebrating Passover, and the Muslim community will soon be starting the Holy month of Ramadan.

“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. 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. Congregants should not gather outside their usual places of worship, and people must go home and not sleep over after services.”

When it came to other gatherings, the president said these were also restricted to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors.

“Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used,” he said.

But while Easter is a time of religious observance for millions of South Africans, it is also a time of increase interprovincial travel and other non-religious gatherings and activities.

While Ramaphosa announced that interprovincial travel would continue to be allowed, he urged all South Africans to limit this as much as possible and to observe all the necessary health protocols if they did travel.

Also unchanged was the midnight-to-4am curfew, and the opening of public recreational spaces, such as beaches, parks and dams. Funerals would continue to be restricted to a maximum of 100 people, and cannot last for longer than two hours.

Ramaphosa emphasised that the adjustments were in place to prevent a new outbreak of infections, and were made after consultations with experts, representatives of provincial and local government, and traditional leaders.

“We will review these measures on the size of gatherings 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,” he added.

While the number of hospitalisations and deaths due to Covid-19 was declining, the national recovery rate standing at slightly higher than 95%, and the daily average of new infections remaining stable at about 1,200 cases, Ramaphosa said the government was seized with securing vaccine supplies.

Despite delays that have seen the country fail to chase its target of achieving herd immunity before the end of 2021, Ramaphosa remained confident that that vaccination targets would be met.

“We have secured 11 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which we know to be effective against the dominant variants in our country. We have secured a further 20 million doses and are finalising the agreement with Johnson & Johnson.

“We are also finalising an agreement for 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses. Together, this supply of vaccines will provide us with enough doses to vaccinate 41 million people,” he said.

Negotiations with manufacturers of other vaccines such as Sinovac, Sinopharm and Sputnik V were ongoing, and some were in the final stages of the approval process for use of the vaccines in SA.

He said that phase one of the vaccination programme, which involves the vaccination of health workers, began in mid-February. To date, more than 250,000 health workers have been vaccinated.

Phase two, which focuses on at-risk population groups, is set to begin mid-May and is expected to run over a six-months period, while a date for phase three is yet to be announced.

Ramaphosa thanked the private sector for their support in vaccine purchases.

“We are also grateful to numerous companies working through the Solidarity Fund to lend financial resources to the vaccine acquisition and rollout, we commend the Vodacom Group and Vodafone Foundation, which have pledged R87 million in the African countries in which they operate for cold chain storage and logistics so that Covid-19 vaccines are delivered securely.”

Ramaphosa stressed that the virus remains present and called on all South Aficans to abide by “the restrictions that are in place for our collective health and safety must be observed.”