JOHANNESBURG – Beaches and booze are high on the government’s hit list as South Africa enters its second wave of coronavirus infections — and a long-awaited monthlong summer break for the majority of residents.
The country accounts for roughly one-third of Africa’s case burden, with more than 866,000 confirmed infections since the country’s outbreak started in early March, according to John Hopkins University data. Of those, more than 23,000 people have died.
President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of the latest wave late Monday, with these sobering words:
“There can no longer be any doubt that South Africa has entered a second wave of coronavirus infections, which we’ve been talking about,” he said. “Given the rate at which new cases have grown over the last two weeks, there is every possibility that if we do not act urgently and if we do not act together, the second wave will be more severe than the first wave.”
To that end, he said that public beaches would be closed, and that alcohol sales would again be limited to Monday to Thursday.
Alcohol consumption is now prohibited in all public spaces, he said. He also announced additional restrictions for two municipalities that had seen case increases.
And, he noted, epidemiologists have noticed a worrying trend: more young people between the ages of 15 and 19 are becoming infected. A recent youth festival in the coastal city of Durban sparked about 1,000 new infections, most among teens.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize recently warned that the second wave could eclipse the first. At the peak in July, the nation reported nearly 14,000 new cases per day.
Now, the daily caseload is again surging, reaching nearly 8,000 cases on a recent day, according to World Health Organization data. By comparison, the United States, which leads the world in confirmed cases, is reaching its all-time peak, reporting on a recent day more than 190,000 new cases. The population of the U.S. is roughly five times bigger than South Africa’s population of 60 million.
“This is the one area that is a major source of concern for us,” he said. “This rise is showing that this is going to be an exponential growth. That means we must expect a faster rise in numbers with a higher peak, possibly, than the first wave.”
Ramaphosa warned four of the nation’s most populous provinces that they were leading the second wave. Those include Gauteng province, the nation’s economic and political epicenter. He urged South Africans to take basic precautions, as they did during the nation’s hard lockdown earlier this year, which resulted in a de-facto cancellation of all Easter celebrations.
“Just as we did during Easter, we need to once again adhere to the basic health protocols,” he said. “If we do not do things differently this festive season, we will greet the new year not with joy, but with sorrow. 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.”