We have let the guard down and are paying the price – South African president


SOUTH Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has put the blame squarely on the shoulders of fellow citizens whose failure to adhere to COVID -19 regulations has led to a dramatic increase in infections forcing the government to impose drastic measures.

In a special address to the nation to reintroduce tough measures to stem the surge of the COVID-19 infections, Ramaphosa said South Africans had let their guards down and were now paying the price.

“We have not been wearing masks.  We are not washing our hands or sanitising.  And we are not keeping a safe distance from others.  We have continued to host and attend social gatherings and events that in many cases flout public health regulations.  As has been the case previously, social gatherings substantially increase the risk of transmission. 

“Venues are often poorly ventilated and their permitted capacity is being exceeded. Hand sanitiser is not being used, and masks are being worn to gain entry, only to be taken off once inside. In these same social gatherings, the consumption of alcohol in restaurants, in nightclubs and taverns has contributed to risky behaviour like not wearing masks and not observing social distancing.”

Ramaphosa also dedicated a lot of time in his speech, on the excessive alcohol consumption and the impact it has on non-adherence to rules and the stress it places on hospital beds.

He explained: “Excessive alcohol consumption is also driving up the number of trauma cases in our hospitals. According to the data we have, with every relaxation of the restrictions on the sale of alcohol, the number of trauma cases reporting at our hospitals has increased.  These trauma cases are putting an unnecessary strain on our already stretched public health facilities.

“Our hospitals, both private and public, are already close to full capacity in a number of provinces, and ICU beds are either full already or rapidly filling up. In the Eastern Cape, for example, the number of hospitalisations and in-hospital deaths has now surpassed the numbers witnessed in the first surge earlier this year.  Several provinces are hard at work to prepare additional beds, ventilators and oxygen to respond to this increase. 

“Our frontline healthcare workers, who have put their lives on the line over the past nine months to care for the ill, are becoming infected in higher numbers. They are exhausted, and they are struggling under the strain of the second wave.  During the month of December, 4,630 public sector health employees contracted COVID-19, bringing the total number infected since the start of the pandemic to over 41,000.

“Yesterday, I saw a social media post from a doctor in one of our facilities, which I would like to share with you, because it captures the situation that our health workers face. He writes: Half our consultants have COVID.  More than half my colleagues had COVID or are currently in quarantine.  Hospital is FULL. No oxygen points. Private hospitals are FULL. Not accepting more patients. No beds anywhere. And this is not yet the peak.  Guys. We are all going to pay for your inability to be responsible with our LIVES.”

“These brave men and women, who have kept our hospitals and clinics open and running through their resilience, courage and professionalism are now at even greater risk than before. They are themselves almost at breakpoint. They could lose their lives. More families will mourn. All because of our actions, and our failure to take responsibility.  We are at an extremely dangerous point in our fight against the pandemic. Unless we act now and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced during the first wave and thousands more people will lose their lives.”

Ramaphosa has placed the country on lockdown level three for 14 days. In terms of the new restrictions following will apply: 

  • Alcohol sales, consumption and transportation is prohibited.
  • All beaches, dams, lakes, parks and public spots will be closed.
  • All indoors and outdoor gathering will be prohibited except for funerals.
  • Funerals may not be attended by more than 50 people.
  • Business premises must determine the maximum number of staff and customers permitted at any one time based on our social-distancing guidelines and may not exceed that limit.
  • Curfew extended from 9 pm to 6 am apart from permitted workers.
  • Shops, restaurants, bars must close at 8 pm.
  • Not wearing a mask could lead to arrest and a fine and 6 months imprisonment.
  • Nightclubs will not be allowed to operate
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