From Monday 14th December at midnight, South Africa has moved in an updated form of Alert level 1.
We all felt relieved when we returned to a more normal way of living when we first entered Alert Level 1 towards the end of September. The worst seemed to be over. But, just like other countries in the world, South Africa has now entered into a second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic. This means that we are experiencing a high number of increased cases per day with a rising death rate. The most dangerous thing is that the hospitals, both private and public, in certain regions of our country have reached capacity or are close to being full. Once this happens, people die unnecessarily because they can’t get the care that they need. This is a very worrying situation to be in.
President Cyril Ramaphosa warned South Africans that, ‘if we do not do things differently this festive season, we will greet the new year not with joy, but with sorrow.’ It seems that we have relaxed too much – we have what is called pandemic fatigue – and we’re tired of wearing our masks and having to be socially distanced. But, the virus doesn’t care about how we feel!! It loves it when we get together because then it can spread around more. Ramaphosa explained than in the last 11 days South Africa has recorded 44 000 new cases. On Sunday, 13th December, nearly 8000 new cases were recorded. This is a huge increase and, if this keeps doubling, things may get worse than the first wave we experienced earlier in the year. New cases in the last 7 days have increased by 74% and the daily average Covid-19 deaths has increased by 50% with more than 150 deaths per day.
For the first time, most of the new infections are being experienced by young people aged between 15 to 19 years old and this group is spreading it rapidly to their families and communities. It now becomes all of our responsibility to protect each other. How do you feel about this? I’m sure, like everyone else out there, including myself, we really wish we could have a normal festive season. This feels too much, doesn’t it? But we have to knuckle down and help reduce the numbers. This way, the hospitals will have the space to take people who need medical care.
Some other countries have again imposed harsh lockdowns during this second wave of the pandemic. South Africa can’t economically afford to do this so it means, in order to save lives and jobs, that we need to follow the rules as laid out by the president and government.
For the first time, though, certain areas in the country will experience different rules. The main provinces that are experiencing the second wave are: The Eastern Cape, the Western Cape, Kwazulu Natal and Gauteng. Even in these provinces, some districts are being declared as hotspots. The first area declared a hotspot was the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality which includes Port Elizabeth. Two additional areas, the Garden Route (along the Western cape coastline) and the Sarah Baartman district that includes Nelson Mandela bay municipality.
So what does an updated Alert Level 1 actually mean?
How vigilant must I be about social distancing and mask wearing?
• Masks remain compulsory. You have to wear them over your mouth and nose every time you are in a public place. No more wearing on your chin just in case! You can’t be on public transport, in any building or in any other open public place without wearing your mask properly. The only exception is people doing ‘vigorous exercise’ in a public place as long as you keep a safe distance of 1.5 metres from another person.
• Social distancing is vitally important. Don’t stand closer to people than 1.5 metres. This also includes your friends. The only exception is the people you live with.
• We have become really relaxed about washing our hands. This is a simple but effective way of avoiding the virus. Wash your hands with soup or sanitiser for 20 seconds after touching surfaces outside your home.\
Can I still go out to restaurants, bars and taverns?
As mentioned before, the South African economy cannot afford for these places to close down completely. So, yes, you can, as long as you follow the rules above about mask wearing, social distancing and washing your hands. But there are new restrictions in place.
• All venues, indoors and outdoors, must closed at 10pm daily.
• There is a new daily curfew so everyone, including staff who work at the venues, must be home at 11pm.
• No more than 100 people are allowed to gather together indoors.
• The total number of people gathering cannot exceed more than 50% of the capacity of the space. So if a restaurant can usually seat 50 people, it can now only seat 25.
What about going to church or other faith based venues?
The same rules apply. They cannot be open until after 10pm and no more people than 100 can gather together inside (or 50%) of capacity.
All post funeral gatherings are prohibited. These are also seen as super-spreader events.
Can I still gather with my friends outside somewhere?
• All gatherings, inside or outside, for any purpose are restricted. Indoors is limited to 100 people and outdoors is limited to 200 people.
• All beaches are closed completely in the Eastern Cape and the Garden Route district. You cannot go there at any time.
• Beaches in Kwazulu-Natal are closed completely on the 16, 25, 31 December as well as the 1, 2 and 3 January. This is in order to control large groups of people gathering.
• All other beaches in the rest of South Africa are open only from 9am to 6pm.
• All gatherings must provide hand sanitiser and everyone needs to practise social distancing and wear masks.
Do remember: large gatherings of young people have been a major source of super-spreader events recently.
Is there a curfew?
Yes, there is a curfew from 23h00 (11pm) until 4h00. No-one, other than permitted workers, may be outside their homes during that time.
When can I buy alcohol?
• Liquor stores are open from Monday to Thursday from 10am to 6pm.
• No alcohol may be consumed after 10pm at a venue that serves alcohol.
• No alcohol is allowed to be consumed in any public place including parks and beaches.
Am I allowed to travel?
Travelling is still allowed as long as all the protocols are followed. All public transport operators must open the windows of their vehicles to allow air to freely circulate and they need to ensure that everyone is wearing a mask.
Are there any other rules that I need to know about?
The government intends to be strict in enforcing the COVID- 19 Alert level updated rules.
• Owners of buildings and managers of offices and stores must make sure that everyone entering is wearing a mask.
• Anyone who breaks these rules is liable for a fine or imprisonment for up to 6 months.
Although we might not be happy about these rules, especially during the festive season, it is important to comply. In order to save lives and jobs, these targeted measures can really help to curb the second wave of infections in South Africa. The sooner we can do this; the sooner the rules can be relaxed. The main areas that are seen as super-spreader events that need to be restricted are alcohol, big parties and beaches. Please avoid them. They are not gone forever; they’ll return as soon as the pandemic is over. Already there is good news about the effectiveness of some vaccines but it will take a while before they will be available here.
Good luck as you go about this festive season and stay safe!