South Africa has announced tighter restrictions to combat the increase in coronavirus infections driven by a faster-spreading new variant.
Among other restrictions announced late on Monday, indoor and outdoor gatherings will be banned and a curfew will be enforced from 9pm to 6am.
Only workers with permits, including medical and security personnel or emergency staff, may move during the curfew.
“From now on, it is compulsory for every person to wear a mask in a public space. A person who does not wear a cloth mask covering over the nose and mouth in a public place will be committing an offence,” said president Cyril Ramaphosa in a televised address.
“On conviction, they will be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or to both a fine and imprisonment.”
The new rules will last for 14 days and they may be reviewed within the next few weeks if they see a sustained decline in infections and hospital admissions, he added.
On Sunday, South Africa’s health ministry reported a grim milestone of one million infections – the highest figure on the continent.
So far, the novel virus has killed more than 27,000 people in South Africa.
The sweeping restrictions were imposed after authorities confirmed a new coronavirus variant has been found circulating in the country.
Referred to as 501. V2, the new strain was discovered by a team of scientists around South Africa who have been tracking the genetics of the virus.
The variant appears to be focused in the south and southeast of the country and has been dominating findings from samples collected since October.
“It was the doctors and the health workers who were calling for these restrictions,” said Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Port Elizabeth which has now turned into the country’s coronavirus hotspot.—Al Jazeera