Covid-19

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Covid-19 second wave: SA braces for stricter rules over festive season

Covid-19 second wave: SA braces for stricter rules over festive season
President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to address the nation on Monday evening, setting out the government’s response over the festive season to the second wave of Covid-19 infections. (Image: Adobe Stock)

Experts weigh in on what measures the government should take to curb the second wave of Covid-19 infections. This comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa prepares to address the nation on the potential tightening of regulations while South Africa heads into the end-of-year break.

The country may be in for tighter restrictions over the festive season as South Africa continues to ride the second wave of coronavirus infections. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to address the nation on Monday evening after a meeting with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), the President’s Coordinating Council (PCC), and a special sitting of Cabinet on Sunday. 

As of 12 December, the country had recorded 7,882 new cases, bringing the cumulative total cases to 852,965.

Amid rising numbers, the Gauteng Department of Health said it was making progress in tracing attendees of the matric Rage festival which took place in KwaZulu-Natal earlier in December. A statement issued by the provincial department on Saturday said 1,322 students from Johannesburg and Tshwane had been identified as having attended the event — 1050 were tested for Covid-19, of whom 984 tested positive. These students had 340 contacts of which 32 tested positive. 

The department pleaded with matrics and their parents to cooperate with healthcare workers where in some cases students were uncooperative. 

“Out of the total number of learners, 99 were uncooperative while the rest of the learners (173) either had supplied wrong contacts or were on voicemail”. 

Family contacts of those who tested positive were instructed to be tested and to quarantine for 14 days. 

“Last week an increase in the number of positive cases was noted, with young people aged 11-20 constituting a large percentage of new cases.” 

Wits University Professor of Vaccinology Shabir Madhi said infections among young people were a cause for concern.

“If the teenagers are getting infected at Rage parties, they are not going to be hospitalised, but are taking infections out into the community,” said Madhi. 

This heightens the risk for persons susceptible to being hospitalised or losing their lives. 

Madhi advised the government to place restrictions on mass gatherings in indoor spaces with poor ventilation. 

“We are in no position in South Africa to stop the spread of the virus; it’s about trying to control the rate of the re-infections that do take place. And the thing that contributes largely to the rapid rate of infections is gatherings in poorly ventilated indoor spaces and that’s what we need to avoid at all costs.” 

Professor Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the SA Medical Research Council, advised a tightening of regulations around the sale and consumption of alcohol.

You don’t want alcohol-related trauma in your hospitals. Healthcare workers are already tired and overworked and need to deal with Covid-19 and other medical admissions,” said Gray.

In mid-November, Level 1 restrictions were eased slightly, with the sale of alcohol at retail outlets permitted during all licensed trading hours. On-site consumption at licensed establishments is allowed outside the midnight to 4am curfew. 

She advised coupling limitations to alcohol consumption with the continuation of the curfew. 

“The overall aim, for now, is to keep hospital beds open and the best way to keep hospital beds open is to have curfews because curfews stop people from driving drunk and causing accidents.”

According to Madhi, an overwhelmed healthcare system will result in additional deaths not related to Covid-19. 

A statement released on 10 December by the South African Liquor Brand owners Association (Salba) said it would distance itself from potential superspreader events during the festive season, which may have crowds exceeding the numbers allowed by regulations. 

“Members will not become involved in or associate themselves with activities that have the potential of attracting crowds that exceed the regulation restricting capacity of 50% of the outlet. The National Disaster Act regulations for lockdown Level 1 further restricts the number of patrons to 250 people in an indoor setting and maximum of 500 people at an outdoor occasion,” the statement read.

On targeting hotspots for tighter restrictions, as is the case with Nelson Mandela Bay, Gray said this was “important”. Apart from stricter measures, masking, testing and spreading readily available information was vital.

If there was an outbreak in a community, it’s important that the community knows, and works with the Department of Health, to mitigate what’s happened.” 

A tobacco ban, however, may not be on the cards after the government’s decision to outlaw cigarette sales during the hard lockdown was declared unconstitutional by the Western Cape High Court on Friday. In the case brought against Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma by British American Tobacco, and others, it was ruled that the ban did not reduce or “act to reduce” the strain on the healthcare system. 

But complacency is the country’s biggest problem. According to Madhi, people are failing to wear masks, adhere to physical distancing and refrain from attending mass gatherings.

“The only thing that furthering restrictions does is that it delays the resurgence. So it doesn’t get rid of the virus under any circumstances, all it will do is delay the resurgence unless there is a fundamental shift in terms of people’s behaviour,” said Madhi. DM

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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