South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, on Sunday re-imposed a night curfew and suspended alcohol sales as coronavirus infections spiked and the health system risked being overwhelmed.
Coronavirus infection numbers had in recent days skyrocketed with at least 12,000 infections recorded daily, translating to around 500 infections every hour, severely straining health care resources.
South Africa is the worst-affected country on the continent with 276,242 registered cases including 4,079 deaths as of Sunday.
Ramaphosa warned that the “coronavirus storm” South Africa faced was “far fiercer and more destructive than any we have known before”.
“It is stretching our resources and our resolve to their limits,” he said.
“As we head towards the peak of infections, it is vital that we do not burden our clinics and hospitals with alcohol-related injuries that could have been avoided,” Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation.
“We have therefore decided that in order to conserve hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing, and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect,” Ramaphosa said.
South Africa’s first booze ban, implemented in March was lifted on June 1.
But on Sunday Ramaphosa rescinded the move, saying “there is no clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence as well as trauma that is alcohol-induced.”
He also ordered a curfew from 9pm (1900GMT) until 4am (0200GMT) starting Monday.
Ramaphosa also outlawed family visits and social events that have been blamed for helping the virus spread.
His administration would now tighten the regulations on the mandatory wearing of face masks.
Ramaphosa said the government was ramping up the healthcare system where there are 28,000 hospital beds reserved for coronavirus patients.
But the system is desperately short of staff, with at least 12,000 more mostly nurses, doctors and physiotherapists still required.
“We have heard of instances where people who are infected have been turned away from health facilities due to a lack of beds or essential supplies. This is deeply worrying,” he said.
Health experts have predicted that South Africa’s coronavirus outbreak will peak between July and November and is projected to claim at least 40,000 lives.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party said the alcohol ban and a night-time curfew were a distraction from the state’s failure to bolster treatment and testing capacity.
“These ineffective gimmicks are an attempt to obscure the truth of our situation: that the national government has completely and utterly wasted South Africa’s long and crippling lockdown,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen in a statement.