The Nelson Mandela Bay metro has become the first region in the country to be officially declared a Covid-19 hotspot, with the government imposing a stricter curfew and limiting alcohol sales to curb the spread of the killer disease.
President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement in his address to the nation on Thursday night, speaking on the latest measures to tackle the coronavirus. Infection numbers were surging in parts of the country, particularly in the Eastern Cape, he said.
There are now more than 800,000 confirmed infections countrywide, with 4,400 of them coming in the past 24 hours.
Ramaphosa said that following consultations with multiple stakeholders and deliberations at the national command council on the coronavirus, the government has decided to extend the curfew in Port Elizabeth.
“With effect from midnight tonight, the hours of the curfew will be 10pm to 4am. This means that, except for emergencies, no person may be outside their place of residency outside these times,” said Ramaphosa.
He also announced a reduction in the hours alcohol may be sold to between 10am and 6pm, Monday to Thursday.
“Alcohol consumption in public spaces such as the beautiful beaches of the area, and parks, is strictly forbidden. This is necessary to prevent large social gatherings that often take place in those spaces.
“Gatherings, including religious gatherings, may not be attended by more than 100 people for indoor events and 250 for outdoor events. At all times the total number of people in a venue may not exceed 50% of the capacity of the venue,” said Ramaphosa.
The region has seen the largest resurgence of the Covid-19 infections in the country, along with the neighbouring Sarah Baartman region, in the Eastern Cape, and the Garden Route in the Western Cape.
But in a perhaps surprising move, Ramaphosa announced that the summer initiation season would be allowed to go ahead in the Eastern Cape — except in Nelson Mandela Bay — following discussions between his government and traditional leaders.
Traditional initiation in the province has been plagued by the deaths of hundreds of young boys and there was concern that this could get worse with Covid-19.
But Ramaphosa said his government has allowed the summer initiation schools season to go ahead after traditional leaders submitted a risk-adjusted plan.
“This plan includes strict adherence to health protocols, including screening of initiates, the provision of personal protective equipment and the provision of water for hygiene and to prevent dehydration. However, due to the high rates of infection in the metro, no initiation schools will be allowed in Nelson Mandela Bay.
“The measures that are being taken in Nelson Mandela Bay are not meant to punish its residents. They are not intended to increase the hardship experienced by our citizens,” he said.
He said the new restrictions in the NMB metro came after consultations with the National Coronavirus Command Council and the premiers, metro mayors and traditional leaders, which factored in screening of initiates and provision of water to avoid dehydration.
He said all post-funeral gatherings, the “after tears parties” were also prohibited in the metro.
Ramaphosa said the additional measures were necessary to prevent the outbreaks in NMB resulting from social gatherings. He further committed that health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize will now visit the Sarah Baartman District and the Garden Route to assess the situation to inform the NCCC on what action to take in the two districts.