Threat of third wave, new variants looms as govt warns of constrained finances

Threat of third wave, new variants looms as govt warns of constrained finances

While South Africa starts the week under relaxed lockdown restrictions, with level 1 coming into effect, the President has warned that the fight against Covid is not yet won.

President Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramphosa announced the new lockdown level on Sunday night, under which larger gatherings will again be allowed.

“The measures we had put in place in December were necessary to contain infections and prevent our health facilities from being overwhelmed. They were necessary to save lives,” he said but noted that the lower infection numbers now allowed for a relaxation of those measures.

He issued a stern warning though that government cannot sustain the kind of financial support it has been offering thus far.

"Even as economic activity returns, even as we roll out our employment stimulus and infrastructure investment programmes, even as we undertake economic reforms with greater urgency, many businesses are still struggling,” he said.

“Many people still do not have their jobs back and many households are still feeling the effect of having lost much of their income.”

READ: Covid-19 vaccination sites to be expanded - Ramaphosa

He noted some of the relief measures that government has introduced, such as the extension of the special R350 Covid grant, and the extension of the UIF’s special Covid-19 wage support benefit.

“Our country’s public finances are, however, extremely constrained, and we cannot keep such relief measures in place indefinitely,” Ramaphosa said.

He turned to the private sector to help remedy the dire impact of the pandemic.

“The return to Alert Level 1 means that most of the remaining restrictions on economic activity have been removed,” he noted.

“We expect this to lead to higher consumption spending, bolstered by the steady recovery in employment. We expect businesses to implement the plans they may have put on hold.”

Ramaphosa also announced on Sunday that the number of vaccine sites in the country would be ramped up significantly.

“All our energy and effort must now go into growing the economy – and this includes keeping infections down,” he said, adding that vaccines would play a key part in this but cannot overcome the pandemic isolation.

READ: Lockdown level 1: New regulations you need to know about

“The easing of restrictions should not be viewed as a reason to abandon precautions,” he warned.

“The threat of a third wave is constantly present, as is the threat of yet more new variants. As we witnessed last year, our actions as individuals and as a collective will determine whether and how soon we experience a resurgence of the virus.”

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