The South African government has shutdown 20 border posts, including Beitbridge, with immediate effect in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of 33,000 people in the country.
In a statement posted on the nation’s presidential website, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the move was necessitated by the alarming rising cases of COVID-19.
“The pandemic in our country is now at its most devastating. The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths is higher now than it has ever been since the first case was recorded in our country in March 2020. Since New Year’s Day, we have recorded nearly 190,000 new coronavirus infections. The country has recorded more than 4,600 COVID-19 deaths so far this year.
“Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has recorded a cumulative number of more than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases. We have recorded more than 33,000 deaths and more than 148,000 people have been admitted to hospital.”
Ramaphosa said research undertaken by South African scientists has shown that the massive increase in infections is largely driven by a variant of the coronavirus.
“This variant was first identified in South Africa in November. We do know that this new variant of the virus spreads much faster than the earlier variants. This explains the fact that many more people have become infected in a far shorter space of time. Emerging information suggests that this new variant does not cause more severe illness than the original variants.
“But it does put more pressure on the health system because the cases increase so rapidly and the hospitals get full more quickly. But one of the most important things that we know about the new variant is that we can prevent transmission using exactly the same measures that we have been using to protect ourselves and others all along.”
He said the country will remain on Level Three lockdown with most places closed in order to reduce the rate of COVID-19 infections.
At the same time, Ramaphosa added that the country will shutdown some of the country’s entry points with immediate effect.
He said one of the challenges that the country faces as the festive season draws to a close is the huge congestion at some border posts.
“This has exposed many people to infection as they wait to be processed and it has been difficult to ensure that the health requirements for entry into South Africa are met, with many people arriving without proof of COVID-19 tests. To reduce congestion and the high risk of transmission, Cabinet has decided that the 20 land ports of entry that are currently open will be closed until the 15th of February for general entry and departure.
"These include the six busiest border posts, which are Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Oshoek, Ficksburg and Kopfontein. People will be however still be allowed to enter or depart the country for the transportation of fuel, cargo and goods, emergency medical attention for a life-threatening condition, the return of South African nationals, permanent residents or persons with other valid visas, diplomats, the departure of foreign nationals and daily commuters from neighbouring countries who attend school in South Africa.”
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has banned arrivals from Zimbabwe and several southern African countries, as part of its measures to contain the spread of the new South African strain of COVID-19. The other countries affected are Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique Seychelles, and Zambia.
Returning British and Irish nationals, permanent residents and longer-term visa holders will be able to enter the country but are required to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival.
VOA Correspondents also contributed to this article