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South Africa Returns To Stricter Control, COVID-19 Cases 'Rising'

South Africa Returns To Stricter Control, COVID-19 Cases 'Rising'

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Sunday that his country will return to stricter lockdown measures in the face of a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, indicating that the virus is “surging again” in Africa’s worst-affected country.

Positive cases in South Africa in the previous seven days were 31% higher than the previous week, and 66% higher than the week before that, Ramaphosa said in a live TV address, adding that some parts of the country, including the commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital city Pretoria, were now in the “third wave.”

“We don’t know how severe this wave will be or how long it will last,” Ramaphosa said.

In response, Ramaphosa announced on Monday that the nighttime curfew would be extended by an hour, beginning at 11 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m. A maximum of 100 people would be allowed at indoor social gatherings and no more than 250 at outdoor gatherings. The number of people attending funerals will be limited to 100, and after-funeral gatherings will be banned entirely.

“We have tended to become complacent,” Ramaphosa said, warning that virus infections were “surging again” as the country entered its winter months, when people were more likely to congregate indoors, potentially increasing infections.

South Africa's decision to revert to a stricter lockdown underscores – as the crisis in India has already demonstrated – that the global pandemic is far from over.

“We have seen the tragic consequences of allowing the virus to spread unchecked in other countries,” Ramaphosa said, adding, “We cannot relax our guard.”

According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Africa has more than 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 56,000 deaths, accounting for more than 30% of all cases and 40% of all deaths recorded by Africa's 54 countries. South Africa recorded 4,515 new cases in the last 24 hours, and Ramaphosa said the "positivity rate" among tests performed was now "a cause for concern."

South Africa had been under lockdown level one, the lowest of its five levels, but was now reverting to an “adjusted level two,” according to Ramaphosa, though authorities stopped short of reimposing strict measures such as daytime movement restrictions and a ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products that had been in place at times last year.

South Africa has seen two previous surges in infections, the first in the middle of last year and a second, much worse wave in December and January, when the emergence of a variant pushed infections and deaths to levels higher than the first surge; Ramaphosa said the virus was currently on “the same trajectory” as those waves.

Experts have warned that this wave, which is expected to arrive with the winter in the Southern Hemisphere, could be even worse.

The increase in cases has also drawn attention to South Africa's lagging vaccine rollout, with only about 1.5% of the country's 60 million people receiving a vaccine. Health workers were the top priority, but only about 500,000 of the 1.2 million health workers have received the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot. South Africa only started vaccinating its elderly citizens two weeks ago.

According to Ramaphosa, South Africa has “secured” more than 50 million vaccines, but currently has only 1.3 million doses ready to be rolled out. More Pfizer-BioNTech doses are expected to arrive next week, and weekly after that, he said. South Africa hopes to vaccinate around 40 million people by the end of the year, a target that appears increasingly unlikely.

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