The belief that South Africa avoided the worst of the COVID 19 pandemic by swiftly implementing one of the strictest lockdowns on the planet last March is evaporating.
The fear is looming that President Cyril Ramaphosa will be forced to implement a second economically crippling set of measures to contain a South African variety of COVID that some medical experts say is more infectious, particularly to younger victims.
Britain has closed its borders to travelers from South Africa to avoid further infections by this variety.
South Africa has recorded more than one million ifections, making it by far Africa’s worst hit nation.
The death toll exceeds 26,000 confirming this unenviable continental status.
There have been more than 42,000 new cases of COVID 19 recoded in the past three days.
Healthcare facilities, particularly in the Western Cape, are stretched to breaking point with both public and private hospitals running short of oxygen and beds.
The National Coronavirus Command Council is in emergency meeting today.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has criticized Britain locking out travelers from South Africa and disputes the assertion that the South African variety of COVID is more deadly that the British variety.
He says his government will decide on whether to slap further containment measures and restrictions on South Africans after assessing the whole country.
“We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb this alarming rate of spread.
“Therefore, it will be important for us to evaluate the situation in these provinces, identify hot spots in these areas and in other provinces where they may be identified and make recommendations based on these findings and the outcomes of what has been implemented in the hot spots that have been identified so far,”
Acting general secretary of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa Cassim Lekhoathi says the second wave is very disturbing because the country is not prepared for it.
“The strain is causing trauma and stress with our health workers.
“It is crucial that we impose stringent measures to curb the outbreak. Our nurses are severely overworked and we cannot afford to have our health system in a critical state. We must not put profit above the lives of people,” he says.
Glenda Grey, the chief executive of the South African says: “We have a very fragile health system and in December hospitals have had to deal with drinking and trauma cases.
“The objective approach to the situation is to stick to the curfew and monitor alcohol consumption. The second approach would be to stop large gatherings such as parties, churches, pubs. The rest of the world is struggling to contain the spread and we cannot expect South Africa to get it right.”
Liquor traders are worried about the possibility of stringent lockdown restrictions.
They are pleading with the government to be allowed to continue the off-premises sale of alcohol as the country navigates the second wave.
Liquor Traders Formations convener Lucky Ntimane said: “We do not think that a total ban on alcohol sales will be a solution either in the short or long term in arresting the resurgence and up-tick in the number of positive cases for Covid-19.”
He says total shut-down of liquor sales would mean an end to the informal market and the 250, 000 direct jobs linked to the sector.
South African Breweries says it “does not believe that an outright ban / total shut down of alcohol sales is a sustainable approach, as seen with the last two bans. The unintended consequences of such actions are dire, from job losses, tax losses, illicit trading and looting of alcohol stores.”