South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday said the country will reimpose a liquor ban to reduce the number of trauma patients that have taken up space in hospitals, where beds are now desperately needed to accommodate a surge of coronavirus patients.
Confronted by this surge, South Africa is also reinstating a night curfew to reduce traffic accidents and made it mandatory for all residents to wear face masks when in public.
In a nationally televised address Sunday night, Ramaphosa said top health officials are warning of impending shortages of hospital beds and medical oxygen as South Africa reaches a peak of coronavirus cases, expected between the end of July and September. He said some hospitals have had to turn away patients because all the beds are full.
South Africa’s rapid increase in reported cases has made it one of the world’s hot spots of COVID-19. Johns Hopkins University, which tallies worldwide figures, ranks South Africa as the ninth country most affected by the disease.
The country has reported increases of more than 10,000 confirmed cases for several days, and the latest daily increase was nearly 13,500. South Africa accounts for 40 percent of all the confirmed cases in Africa, with 276,242 — an increase of 12,058 in one day.
South Africa has recorded 4,079 deaths, 25 percent of which have been in the past week, Ramaphosa said.
“While the surge of infections has been expected, the force and the speed with which it has progressed has, quite understandably, caused great concern,” Ramaphosa said. “Many of us are fearful of the danger this presents for ourselves, and for our families.”
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Ramaphosa said that since the sale of alcohol was re-introduced in June, hospitals have experienced a spike in admissions in their trauma and emergency wards.
Face masks have also been declared mandatory, with all transport operators, employers, and owners of businesses and buildings now legally obliged to ensure everyone entering their businesses or premises are wearing masks.
South Africa imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in April and May, including closing virtually all mines, factories and businesses, and implemented a ban on sales of liquor and cigarettes. The measures slowed the spread of the coronavirus but South Africa’s economy contracted dramatically, increasing unemployment and hunger.
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The country began relaxing restrictions in June to allow millions of South Africans to return to work. The easing of restrictions allowed the sale of alcohol for four days a week. But within a few weeks, the number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations increased dramatically, prompting Ramaphosa to reimpose the ban on alcohol sales, among other restrictions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.