The country is experiencing a massive surge in infections, President Cyril Ramaphosa said as he announced the new wideranging lockdown during a nationwide address on Sunday.
The third wave is currently centered on Gauteng, South Africa’s economic engine. But scientists have said that it was a ‘matter of days’ before the impact of the Delta variant spreads to other provinces.
The restrictions are some of the strictest announced since the early months of the pandemic. All gatherings indoors and outdoors will be prohibited except for funerals and a curfew has been instituted from 9 pm and 4 am.
Alcohol sales are banned while travel in and out of worst-hit Gauteng province will be prohibited and restaurants will only be allowed for take-out and delivery; and schools closed.
“We are in the grip of a devastating wave that by all indications seems like it will be worse than those that preceded it. The peak of this third wave looks set to be higher than the previous two waves,” said Ramaphosa, adding that the peak of the third wave could also last longer than the past two waves.
Vaccines have had little impact
Public health experts have told Asia Despatch that the late start and relatively slow pace of vaccinations mean that vaccinations will have little positive impact on the third wave in the country.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that the vaccines are here,” said Ramaphosa, stressing that public health measures like masking and avoiding gatherings are critical.
Multiple health professionals in both the private and public sectors in Johannesburg, Gauteng’s largest city, have described to Asia Despatch how hospitals are nearing capacity and struggling to accommodate the sick. Beds are limited, they say, but also a lack of trained staff to treat patients.
Some severe patients have been evacuated to other provinces to access critical care.
Delta variant spreading across Africa
The stricter lockdown measures come after a group of scientists briefed the public on Saturday with details on how quickly the Delta variant took over in the country.
“The new variant seems to not only be rising, but it has started to dominate the infections in South Africa,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of KZN Research Innovation & Sequencing Platform (KRISP). Early this year, KRISP identified a different variant, now known as the Beta variant, that ripped through South Africa in an intense second wave.
While more studies need to be completed, de Oliveira believes that genomic surveillance will show that the third wave in South Africa is directly linked to the emergence of the Delta variant.
The Delta variant is now spreading fast globally and is present in more than 85 known countries, he said. “In Africa, it seems to be very widespread also. With many sites in Southern Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and West Africa.”
David McKenzie reported from Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nimi Princewill reported from Abuja, Nigeria.