Tighter lockdown restrictions under discussion as Gauteng leaves Cyril Ramaphosa ‘deeply worried’
Balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods will be assessed
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday said the government is considering imposing tighter lockdown restrictions, particularly in Gauteng where the number of Covid-19 infections continues to rise unabated.
“Clearly there seem to be indications we have to increase the measures, particularly in Gauteng, we have imposed or put in place,” said Ramaphosa.
Answering questions in Cape Town after a port visit, Ramaphosa said: “We are in the third wave. The issue of moving onto another level is a matter that is going to be discussed by the national coronavirus command council — the NCCC will meet and make recommendations.”
The Gauteng coronavirus command centre is meeting on Tuesday, ahead of the national team’s meeting on Thursday.
A week ago Ramaphosa placed the country on alert level 3 in a bid to curb the rise in infections, particularly in Gauteng.
The increase in hospital admissions has put strain on the health system and this has forced government to rope in the services of military medics in Gauteng. The army team comprises 60 medics who will support the Covid-19 fight at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, as well as mass screening and contact tracing.
When asked about the increasing number of infections in Gauteng, Ramaphosa said: “I am deeply worried. We are seeing infection rates that seem to be much higher than what we have seen before and premier David Makhura is dealing with this challenge. Acting minister of health Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is also involved and we are very grateful to have a soldier corps who are able to go in to assist.
“The deployment of more medical personnel is obviously one of the things we need and more hospital beds. They are opening up as many hospital beds as they possibly can. There is also a challenge around oxygen availability and ventilators.
“We are involved in a very, very serious situation in relation to the pandemic in Gauteng. We are also seeing cases rising in other parts of the world and here in the Western Cape. I was talking to premier Alan Winde earlier and we are seeing signs of that.”
Ramaphosa said the government had a tough balancing act to keep the economy going and save lives.
“We have always said we will have a balance. A balance because the lives of our people are extremely important, as are their livelihoods, so we have always sought to keep a very good balance.”
He said when the pandemic started, the government imposed a very hard lockdown — possibly harder than any other nation — and that was to assist the country to bring down the rate of infections.
“Everybody did see the need for it and with time we had to ease off and had to move from level 5 to 4, then 3, then 2 and then 1. Now we have moved back to level 3 and infections are continuing to rise. That calls for us to review exactly where we are and continue to create that delicate balance between saving lives and the livelihoods of our people.”
On whether the country will be moved to another level, he said: “We are going to make an assessment.”
Responding to a question about the Western Cape’s intention to procure its own vaccines, Ramaphosa said: “We have always said the process of acquiring vaccines, all over the world, is a government-inspired process and we are looking at national governments worldwide being the key players.
“Vaccine manufacturers have developed a greater comfort in dealing with governments because there are guarantees that have to be signed and can only be signed by national government. We negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies and at times it is country to country.”
Ramaphosa said on Monday he spoke to the president of the European Union about vaccines. “She [President Ursula von der Leyen] is going to have her own consultations at government level,” he said.
“It is not only the Western Cape but also companies would want to acquire vaccines and that would be good if the ecosystem that already exists made it really possible.
“But the ecosystem is such that national government will be able to offer all the guarantees the vaccine manufacturers need in case of any failure of vaccines and many people get sick or whatever. Then the national government needs to come to the party and that is why they have the comfort to strike deals with national governments.”