JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa on Thursday tightened COVID-19 rules in the Eastern Cape province where infections are rising the most, curbing movement and gatherings, but decided against reinstating a nationwide lockdown.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address that the curfew in the eastern Nelson Mandela Bay area would now run from 2000 GMT to 0200 GMT, while indoor gatherings would be limited to 100 people and alcohol consumption in public was prohibited.
South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections on the African continent, with more than 760,000 confirmed cases and more than 20,000 deaths. New cases nationally rose to an average of 2,900 cases a day in the last week of November from 1,500 new daily cases in the first week of that month.
The Eastern Cape province, where Nelson Mandela Bay is the largest municipality, has seen infections breach the 130,000 mark this week, and accounted for almost half of the country's new cases in the week to Dec. 3, according to the health ministry.
Active cases in Western Cape, which includes tourist favourite Cape Town, increased week-on-week by more than 20%, according to the province. The Garden Route in the interior of the province has seen a more than 100% increase in new COVID-19 cases.
"Cabinet has decided to declare Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality a coronavirus hotspot," Ramaphosa said. "We will implement additional measures in areas identified as coronavirus hotspots."
"We know that a second wave is possible but we know too that it can be prevented ... We are in the fight of our lives," said Ramaphosa.
The president said South Africa had made a 327 million rand payment ($21 million) to the COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine distribution scheme.
The country in November committed to join the vaccine facility, purchasing enough of the medicine for 10% of its population of 58 million.
($1 = 15.1691 rand)
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana and Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Toby Chopra)