Virus-hit South Africa curbs land border traffic, extends restrictions

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Health workers attend to patients in tents at the parking lot of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease lockdown, in Pretoria, South Africa January 11, 2021. — Reuters pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Health workers attend to patients in tents at the parking lot of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease lockdown, in Pretoria, South Africa January 11, 2021. — Reuters pic

PRETORIA, Jan 12 — South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday extended recently imposed coronavirus restrictions and placed curbs on land border traffic, as the country grapples with an unprecedented surge in cases fuelled by a new virus strain.

The continent’s most industrialised economy and worst Covid-hit country went back into partial lockdown last month to stem flaring infections.

Alcohol sales were banned to ease pressure on emergency wards, large gatherings prohibited, parks shut and a 9 pm curfew imposed to limit exposure.

Ramaphosa yesterday said those measures would be extended until further notice.

“Cabinet has decided to maintain the country on adjusted alert level 3,” the president announced in an address to the nation.

“Most of the measures that were announced on 28 December 2020 will therefore remain in place.”

In addition, Ramaphosa said travel across South Africa’s 20 land points of entry would be restricted until mid-February.

Cross-border transport of fuel, cargo and goods will still be allowed, however, and several other exceptions were made including travel for school and medical reasons.

The land border measures were decided after thousands of people tried to cross into the country to escape a new lockdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe last week.

The rush caused backlogs at the Beitbridge border post, South Africa’s second-busiest entry port.

Over 100 travellers reportedly caught coronavirus as they queued for passport controls and coronavirus tests at the site.

Ramaphosa urged South Africans to remain cautious and limit social interactions.

“Research... has shown that the massive increase in infections is largely driven by a variant of the virus,” he said.

“We know that this new variant... spreads much faster.”

To date the country has recorded more than 1.2 million coronavirus infections — 40 per cent of Africa’s 3 million-odd confirmed cases — and 33,000 deaths.

Almost 190,000 cases and over 4,600 deaths have been registered this month alone.

Ramaphosa said hospital admissions were at their highest since the pandemic began, with over 15,000 Covid-19 patients currently in care.

One third of those are on oxygen, he added.

South Africa is expected to receive a first batch of coronavirus vaccine this month to inoculate frontline health workers.

The president said a total of 20 million doses had been secured so far and would be delivered mainly over the first half of the year.

The country aims to vaccine two thirds of its population, around 40 million people, in order to achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021. — AFP

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