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Ramaphosa: Vaccine Phase Two on the horizon, liquor sto...

Covid-19

MAVERICK CITIZEN

Ramaphosa: Vaccine Phase Two on the horizon, liquor stores shuttered over Easter

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS)

Two days before Easter, President Cyril Ramaphosa told South Africa that the sale of alcohol has been restricted for the four days of the long weekend, while the limit on gatherings has been upped. Beyond Easter, Phase Two of the vaccine roll-out is starting to take shape.

The second phase of South Africa’s vaccine roll-out will begin in May and little will change in the way of restrictions over the upcoming period of religious observances, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa in a speech to the nation on Tuesday.

Ramaphosa noted that South Africa, like many other countries, is “not yet ready to return to normal life” because of Covid-19. This will be the second year that we will have to limit our interactions, particularly over Easter, he said.

On March 30 2020, there were 1,324 active cases of Covid-19 in South Africa and two deaths. A year later, the country had recorded more than 1.5 million cases and 52,710 deaths. Places of worship closed their doors and went online, while others limited the sizes of gatherings to the required 100 people.

Ramaphosa went on to say that Easter is a “welcome moment” to pause and rest from work, studies or the “pressures of the last few months” and that many people had made plans for the long weekend to travel and visit family and friends or attend gatherings.

He acknowledged that for millions of people this is an important period of religious observance. Easter is days away. The Jewish community is currently celebrating Passover and soon the Muslim community will begin Ramadan.

“While the rate of transmission remains stable, we cannot let our guard down. This is a time when caution is needed more than ever,” he continued.

“The reality is that greater movement of people, interprovincial travel, greater use of public transit and gatherings present a great risk of an increase in infections.” 

South Africa will remain on Alert Level 1 because of the “relatively low” transmission levels, he said. The number of new Covid-19 cases has remained “relatively stable”, with about 1,200 new cases each day over the past two weeks. In addition, the numbers of Covid-19 deaths and hospitalisations have been declining.

Nevertheless, two adjustments to the restrictions were announced.

The sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will be prohibited between Friday, 2 April and Monday, 5 April. This is due to “the role of alcohol in fuelling reckless behaviour”. Nevertheless, alcohol can be sold on these days in restaurants, shebeens and bars until 11pm.

In addition, all gatherings will be restricted to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors. If the venue is too small to accommodate these crowds with proper social distancing, then it may use 50% of its capacity. Previously, the limit on gatherings was capped at 100 indoors and 250 outdoors.

The new limits on gatherings will be reviewed within the next 15 days based on an assessment of the state of the pandemic and the extent of compliance with health protocols.

Ramaphosa said this decision follows weeks of consultations with faith communities “to find mutually beneficial solutions to the challenges of managing large crowds at religious services”. He thanked the faith communities for engaging with the government on this issue. 

The national government had also consulted traditional leaders, provincial and local government and health experts on what measures should be in place.

“There is a common appreciation that we must do all we can to support our people to exercise their religious freedom and keep our country safe.” 

Ramaphosa urged people to avoid gathering indoors, large gatherings and crowds and places with poor ventilation. He encouraged the use of masks, regularly washing hands and observing physical distancing.

“At this time, when the Easter message of hope, rebirth and renewal finds expression in the lives of so many of us, let us please take care,” he said.

Providing an update on the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, Ramaphosa said that Phase One is “on track” to being completed within three months. South Africa has secured 11 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and is about to finalise another 20 million doses, he announced.

Another 20 million doses are soon to be secured with Pfizer, bringing the total number of people South Africa is able to vaccinate to 41 million. 

“We will ensure that we have sufficient doses of effective vaccines to reach population immunity in the shortest possible time.” 

More announcements will be made once deals are closed. Negotiations are ongoing with Sinovac, Sinopharm and Sputnik V and “some” of these manufacturers are in the final stages of the approval process for use of their vaccines in South Africa, he said.

Phase Two is expected to start in mid-May and will last for six months. “We believe that sufficient volumes from manufacturers will be arriving in the quantities as agreed in terms of our agreements with them.” 

Registration to be vaccinated in Phase Two will begin in April and while people are encouraged to register online, those without online access to the portal will be able to register in person, he said. 

The government is “developing mechanisms” to identify and register undocumented people as well as those who do not have the necessary access to technology.

Already, 2,000 vaccination sites have been identified, including general practitioners’ rooms, community clinics and pharmacies, retail outlets, and larger facilities such as stadiums and conference centres.

Ramaphosa emphasised that South Africa’s vaccine roll-out is tied to that of other African countries. South Africa will receive an allocation of vaccine doses through the African Union vaccine initiative.

In addition, Aspen manufacturing plant has committed half of its capacity to producing Johnson & Johnson vaccines for African countries. This comes after the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust secured 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Vodacom Group and Vodafone Foundation has allocated R87-million to assist with cold chain storage and logistics for Covid-19 vaccines in the countries in which they operate.

“Greater collaboration between government, business, labour and civil society is key to the success of the vaccine roll-out,” Ramaphosa said. DM/MC

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