There are growing calls for President Cyril Ramaphosa to address the nation on the country’s latest Covid-19 developments amid a steady rise in new coronavirus cases.
Although the department of health says South Africa is not yet in the grips of the third wave in infections, the liquor industry and several organisations have weighed in on how the government could best prepare for a surge in infections.
This is due to fears that an increased lockdown level will again lead to a restriction on alcohol sales and a change to the curfew in place under the extended State of Disaster.
In the last year, there has often been short notice of presidential addresses to the nation so as not to create panic. However, these addresses have been fairly predictable on the back of the official Covid-19 statistics and impending waves.
Ramaphosa last addressed the nation in March when he announced that SA would move to lockdown level 1 after a decrease in Covid-19 cases.
This after the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) decided to place the country under level 3 from level 1 with immediate effect in late December and imposed restrictions on alcohol sales and public gatherings.
At the time, the president said there was little cause for celebration as the country prepared to enter 2021. He said it was “a time of heightened danger” and said the majority of new cases were coming from the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
“Unless we act now, and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced in the first wave,” Ramaphosa said.
The second wave was largely driven by the 501.V2 variant discovered in SA, which was found to be more contagious.
Earlier this month, local scientists confirmed cases of the B.1.617.2 variant from India in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal but said all cases had been isolated.
Covid cases on the rise
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) warned this month the rapid increase in the percentage of South Africans testing positive for Covid-19 was a cause for concern.
On Saturday, the country recorded its highest new daily Covid-19 cases within 24 hours.
The department of health reported 4 236 new cases and 53 related deaths. On Sunday, 2 894 new cases recorded bringing the total number of cases since the pandemic began in March 2020 to 1 635 465.
Thirty more Covid-19 related deaths were reported pushing the total number of fatalities to 55 802.
The NICD said that should Covid-19 cases continue to climb, South Africa would likely cross the threshold for a third wave in Covid infections in the coming weeks.
The Free State and Gauteng are already in the grips of a third wave.
The Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North West and Western Cape are also showing sustained increases in new cases.
Another issue of major concern is the government’s slow pace of administering Covid-19 vaccines after having encountered setbacks in its vaccination drive. So far, the total number of vaccines administered since last week stood at 647 983.
Last week, the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (Saapa SA) called on government to execute a pre-emptive strike against the third wave and reduce access to alcohol immediately.
The pressure group said tough decisions were required now more than ever to reduce the strain on the healthcare system caused by trauma cases related to alcohol abuse.
While Saapa SA admitted South Africa is not in a third wave at the moment, it said “alcohol consumption should not aggravate the predicted impact of the third wave”.
At the same time, liquor traders want an urgent meeting with Ramaphosa to explore solutions to their industry as the third wave looms.
In a letter to the president, National Liquor Traders Council convener, Lucky Ntimane, asked for a consultation with the government before any decisions are made which would impact their businesses.
The sector has been hit hard by repeated alcohol bans and restrictions since lockdown was implemented over a year ago.
It was unclear when Ramaphosa would address the nation on the government’s Covid-19 response or whether the NCCC would meet soon.
The government has continued to encourage citizens to adhere to health and safety protocols like washing hands, sanitising, social distancing and wearing face masks in public.