Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa will penalize people for not wearing masks in public places as part of efforts to curb the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the government announced on Monday.

Should people not take all reasonable measures to ensure masks are worn, they will face a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment, said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

“We have introduced provisions that enforce the mandatory wearing of face masks, particularly in a public setting,” said the minister, while elaborating on the Amendment of Level Three Coronavirus COVID-19 Regulations.

The amended regulations, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening, reinforce the mandatory wearing of masks in public or in public places because “there are a number of people who have taken to organizing parties, who have drinking sprees, and some who walk around in crowded spaces without masks,” as Rmaphosa put it.

Under the new regulations, any employer, manager or owner of a building used by the public to obtain goods or services, will be responsible if any person enters and remains in such building, place or premises, without wearing a mask.

The penalty lies with the employer, manager or owner of a building as access is controlled by such persons, Dlamini-Zuma said.

As for the wearing of masks in public transport, the driver, owner or operator of the vehicle who fails to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment, said Dlamini-Zuma, without specifying the amount of the fine.

This is necessary to achieve compliance with the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the minister said.

Together with social distancing, sanitization and the regular washing or sanitizing of hands, the wearing of masks constitutes one of the most effective systematic means of reducing transmission of the virus, she said.

South Africa is now amongst the most infected countries in the world, the minister said. “The situation would have been far worse, had we not taken extra ordinary and precautionary measures,” she said.

As of Sunday, South Africa recorded a cumulative number of 276,242 confirmed cases, and 4,079 related deaths. Over the past several days, the country has been recording over 12,000 new cases every day, the equivalent of 500 new infections every hour.

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