South Africa

PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

Ramaphosa: Second Covid-19 wave looms, but economic recovery must go on

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation on Wednesday 11 November 2020, announcing that the state of disaster has been extended by a month. (Photo: GCIS)

Addressing the nation on Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned that there is evidence of a resurgence of coronavirus infections in certain areas – notably the Eastern Cape. The National State of Disaster is to be extended, but restrictions on alcohol sales will be lifted and borders opened to international travellers.

It’s not over, not by a long shot.

This was the message broadcast by President Cyril Ramaphosa in a Wednesday night address, as he warned the nation that coronavirus infection rates are on the rise in a number of areas. Of particular concern: the Eastern Cape, with “massive spikes” in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro and the Sarah Baartman district.

“In the last week, the number of new cases in the province was 50% higher than the week before, and the total number of new cases in the last 14 days was around 145% higher than the previous 14 days,” Ramaphosa said.

“For the last month, there has been a sustained upward increase in hospital admissions in the province.”

These increases are likely to be the result of super-spreader events at universities and schools and other large gatherings, in combination with low adherence to Covid-19 safety precautions.

“With many people moving between the Eastern Cape and other provinces – particularly the Western Cape – it is a matter of time before this surge spreads to other parts of the country,” President Ramaphosa said.

He said that a “resurgence plan” developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation was being implemented. This will see contact tracing intensified, community screening and testing stepped up, and health facilities being readied to respond to a possible second wave.

The president also warned that it was not just in the Eastern Cape that a surge was being witnessed.

“The areas where we are experiencing higher than average rates of new infections include Lejweleputswa and Mangaung in the Free State, Frances Baard and Pixley ka Seme in the Northern Cape, and the Garden Route and Cape Town metro in the Western Cape,” Ramaphosa said.

There had been speculation in advance of the president’s address that he would announce the implementation of more restrictive lockdown regulations once again. But although Ramaphosa stated that the National State of Disaster would be extended by another month, until 15 December, no new restrictions are being enforced.

Indeed, Ramaphosa stressed that the economy needs to return to “full operation” as soon as possible, with South Africa’s busiest tourist season on the horizon.

To this end, normal trading hours will be restored for the sale of alcohol at retail outlets. South African borders are also opening to travellers from “all countries, subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative Covid-19 certificate”.  

 The president said that some economic relief measures would need to continue for a while because not all industries are able to operate at full steam. The Covid-19 special grant will be extended until January 2021, and the UIF Ters benefit scheme – the shutting down of which has been the subject of major controversy – will be extended by one further month to 15 October 2020.

Ramaphosa stated that the government is “focusing relentlessly” on its economic recovery plan. Among the programmes: “The Department of Basic Education has opened recruitment this week for teacher and school assistants, targeting unemployed youth in every province.”

In response to Ramaphosa’s address, the DA released a statement condemning the extension of the National State of Disaster.

“Government cannot keep managing South Africa around a single risk when our nation is so imperilled by far greater risks, such as poverty, hunger and unemployment,” the party said.

“The Covid fatality rate in developing countries is only about a fifth of the rate in developed countries because of our younger populations. It makes no sense to mindlessly copy far richer, older nations’ responses. Unless of course you want an excuse to run a dictatorship.”

The opposition party also suggested that the government should “trust people to slow transmission through masks, social distancing and practical common sense interventions”.

As Ramaphosa pointed out, however, there are clearly high levels of “coronavirus fatigue” in South Africa generally, leading to lower adherence to safety measures by some.

“I have been increasingly getting concerned and alarmed by what I have been seeing on social media and even on television where people are holding big parties, gatherings and social events as though the virus does not exist,” the president said.

He appealed to all South Africans to continue to wear masks, limit indoor gatherings and practise physical distancing.

News this week from Pfizer that a vaccine against the coronavirus might be on the horizon brings new hope, said Ramaphosa. He added that local company Aspen Pharmacare had already entered into a preliminary agreement with Johnson & Johnson to manufacture 300 million doses of a vaccine at its Nelson Mandela Bay plant.  

Ramaphosa concluded his address by appealing to South Africans to wear a black armband during five days – 25 to 29 November – which have been designated as a period of national mourning for the victims of Covid-19.

“We call upon all South Africans to demonstrate their solidarity and do this in remembrance of our countrymen and women, in recognition of the grief that we share as a nation, and as an affirmation of our determination to overcome this devastating disease,” Ramaphosa said. DM

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  • Ramaphosa’s government has no direction and consistency. They kept the borders closed when the infection rate was much lower. Opening them now to attract overseas visitors makes no sense, since those who intend traveling internationally during December have most probably booked their flights already. Also allowing full trading hours, even though welcome, could have happened a couple of months ago when the infection was far less than it is at present. There appears to be no logic in the measures taken by government.

    • Exactly, and tourism insiders were raising the alarm months ago about wasting an entire tourism season. That the ANC would only wake up to this reality now is par for the course. But then another level 5 lockdown wouldn’t have surprised me much either, such is their ineptitude

  • Totally uncalled-for statements from the DA. Why the incessant nipping at ankles? We all know for dam sure South Africans are not adhering to the simple requirements of wearing a mask and avoiding gatherings. Cyril is right to be concerned. I don’t think grand-standing is buying any support. A simple message of support for relaxing the restrictions would have gone down much better. I think we can all agree Cyril is not trying to be a dictator either. Tiresome

  • If the Eastern Cape is the big problem, and numbers show it is, why not close the borders between the E Cape and other provinces – as per Levels 5 and 4?
    The number of confirmed active cases nationally is 35,925 out of a population of close to 60M; 0.06% of the population. 95% of those can be expected to recover. What’s the problem?

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