South Africa returns to stricter coronavirus lockdown as cases surge

A woman in mask and face shield fills a syringe from a vial.
A health worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a newly opened vaccination center outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
(Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

South Africa is returning to stricter lockdown measures Monday in the face of a sharp rise in coronavirus cases that indicate the virus is “surging again” in Africa’s worst-affected nation.

Positive test results in South Africa in the past seven days were 31% higher than the week before, and 66% higher than the week before that, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a TV address Sunday. He said some parts of the country, including the commercial hub of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, were now in “a third wave.”

“We do not yet know how severe this wave will be or for how long it will last,” Ramaphosa said.


He said that, beginning Monday, the nighttime curfew would be extended by an hour to start at 11 p.m., ending at 4 a.m. A maximum of 100 people will be allowed at indoor social gatherings and no more than 250 at an outdoor gathering. The number of people attending funerals will be limited to 100, and after-funeral gatherings will be banned completely, Ramaphosa said. Nonessential businesses must close by 10 p.m.

“We have tended to become complacent,” Ramaphosa said, warning that coronavirus infections were “surging again” at a time when the country was moving into winter and people were more likely to gather together indoors.

Like the COVID-19 crisis in India, South Africa’s health crisis is far from over.

While California’s COVID-19 case rate has dropped, Dr. Anthony Fauci says the nationwide count has ‘plateaued at a disturbingly high level.’

“We have seen in other countries the tragic consequences of leaving the virus to spread unchecked,” Ramaphosa said. “We cannot let our guard down.”

South Africa has more than 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 56,000 deaths from COVID-19. That amounts to more than 30% of the cases and 40% of the deaths recorded by Africa’s 54 countries, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa had been under shutdown Level 1, the most relaxed of its five levels, but is now reverting to an “adjusted Level 2,” Ramaphosa announced. Authorities stopped short of reimposing limits on people’s movements during the day and a ban on the sales of alcohol and tobacco products, which was in place at times last year.

South Africa has seen two previous surges in infections, the first in the middle of last year and a second, much worse, wave in December and January, when the emergence of a variant pushed infections and deaths to higher levels than the first surge. The virus was currently following “the same trajectory” as those waves, Ramaphosa said.

Experts have warned that this wave, arriving with the Southern Hemisphere winter, may be even worse.

The surge in cases has drawn more attention to South Africa’s lagging vaccine rollout. Only about 1.5% of the country’s 60 million people have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose.