President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Monday that South Africa would begin a crackdown on Christmas celebrations in response to a surge in coronavirus cases.
The restrictions, which took effect at midnight Tuesday, are a response to a reported second wave of coronavirus that has brought the country’s total number of cases close to 900,000.
“If we do not do things differently this festive season, we will greet the new year not with joy, but with sorrow,” warned Ramaphosa, who has faced accusations of financially benefitting from coronavirus relief efforts. “Many of our friends, relatives, and co-workers will be infected, some will get severely ill and some, tragically, will die. Unless we do things differently, this will be the last Christmas for many, many South Africans.”
Under the new rules, all drivers of public transport must ensure their passengers are wearing a mask. The same applies to managers of public buildings, who are also responsible for ensuring all those who enter their facilities have a face covering. Those found guilty of not ensuring compliance are liable to fines or prison sentences of up to six months.
Among the other rules are a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people for indoor events and 250 people for outdoor ones. Furthermore, the number of people present must not exceed more than half of the venue’s total capacity.
The new regime, which sees the country move into the highest “tier” of restrictions, will also mean the closure of beaches and public parks in places where infection rates are particularly high, despite extensive scientific evidence that outdoor venues are much less likely to allow the virus to spread rapidly. For those that are allowed to remain open, any kind of event or live performance is prohibited.
“The situation will be monitored daily by local authorities to ensure compliance with the regulations on gatherings and the prohibition of alcohol,” Ramaphosa explained. “In instances, where there are large crowds or poor compliance with safety measures, specific beaches and recreational parks will be closed.”
The restriction will also have an impact on the country’s vital hospitality sector. Ramaphosa has banned non-essential establishments such as bars and restaurants from being open past 10 p.m., including on New Year’s Eve.
“The curfew is meant to prevent gatherings that go on late into the night, while enabling restaurants, bars, and taverns to continue to operate and earn an income. This means that we will all need to make changes to the way in which we celebrate these occasions,” he continued. “This exception is being made due to the vital contribution of these establishments to the tourism sector in several parts of the country.”
The restrictions have been put in place as Chinese coronavirus cases increased from a daily average of around 3,800 to over 6,600 a day. The daily number of deaths has risen by nearly 50 percent, from 100 deaths a day last week to 150 over the past seven days. Overall, South Africa has a per capita mortality rate of just over 400 per million people, a roughly average figure compared with the rest of the world.