Hotspots. Again.
  • South Africa had officially-declared coronavirus hotspots for June, July, and part of August – but they were never actually enforced.
  • The plan wouldn't have worked, said cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma after dismantling them.
  • She will almost certainly be responsible for declaring new hotspots in coming days, and determining the restrictions on booze and movement that will come with them.
  • Here's how hotspots were supposed to work, the first time South Africa declared them.
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South Africa seems set to get formally-declared coronavirus hotspots, with special restrictions on movement and the sale of alcohol – again.

The National Coronavirus Command Council has agreed that hotspots should have an earlier curfew, with pubs and shebeens closing at 21:00, and bottle stores closed on Fridays, News24 reported.

Where exactly the hotspots will be has apparently not been agreed, but parts of the Eastern Cape, such as Nelson Mandela Bay, and parts of the Western Cape, including Cape Town, are being considered.

No decision has been formally communicated by government yet, and rules and regulations have not yet been published.

If implemented, the hotspot system will be South Africa's second attempt at creating a differentiated lockdown, with different rules from place to place.

Hotspots were declared during the first wave of coronavirus infections, in May, but were never subjected to different rules than the rest of the country.


Instead, the declaration of hotspots was scrapped in mid-August. At the time the minister responsible for both creating and scrapping the hotspot rules, cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said they would not have worked.

Dlamini-Zuma will almost certainly be responsible for declaring and managing hotspots version two.

Here's how the hotspots system was supposed to work the first time around, and why it didn't.

Anything could be declared a hotspot, not just a city or province

Under the May plan, hotspots would not be limited to pre-existing defined areas such as metros or provinces. The formal definition was "a geographical area or cluster of geographical areas", meaning the borders of a hotspot could be drawn in any fashion.

This, insiders said, was done in part so that road networks and geographical features could be taken into account, in order to create zones that could be effectively blocked off and policed.

The availability of hospital beds – not just the rate of coronavirus transmission – was supposed to be taken into account...

Hotspots would not simply be declared where coronavirus infections were flaring up, the original rules made clear. A decision to declare such a zone was supposed to take into account "the availability of hospital beds and related resources" as well as active Covid-19 cases, and the rate of increase.

Where the health system was ready to deal with a surge, the government suggested, restrictions could be avoided.

... but the ministers of health and co-operative governance could use any criteria they liked

While there were indications on what statistics would be used to draw up the map of hotspots, the government by no means tied its own hands. Dlamini-Zuma and health minister Zwelini Mkhize could, at any time, for any reason, declare any geographical area a hotspot.

Hotspots were supposed to get extra resources

While subject to stricter lockdowns than the rest of South Africa, hotspot areas were also to be used to designate places in need of extra support.

Specifically envisaged were:

  • "intensive surveillance and intervention measures"
  • more personnel, and specifically "increased resources for health services"
  • increased testing

After the initial hotspot idea was abandoned, government said it wouldn't have worked

Hotspots may be useful in future, Dlamini-Zuma said in August, while simultaneously suggesting the concept would not have worked.

“If you look at the criteria that was used to determine the hotspots, pretty much every part of our country is a hotspot still, so there was no point in differentiating them, because we are trying to balance these livelihoods and saving lives," said Dlamini-Zuma at a press conference, after hotspots were deleted from regulations.

"But also the way South Africa is integrated, somebody works in one district, and stays in another district. Somebody does their shopping in another district but they live in another district; we are very much ingrate and it is going to be difficult, for now, to be separated..."

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