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South Africa remembers COVID victims on New Year's Eve

Frontline workers attend a candlelight ceremony on New Year's Eve on the famed Nelson Mandela Bridge in downtown Johannesburg Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.   -  
Copyright © africanews
Denis Farrell/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

South Africa

To honour the victims of coronavirus and health care workers on the front line, South Africans lit candles on New Year's Eve rather than partying, heeding a call by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

South Africa has the most coronavirus cases on the continent and has more than one million infections since the outbreak in March, with some 28,000 deaths. The country also has a new variant of the virus which is more contagious.

“This year has been very tough for most people, and it hit too close to home for me when I lost my aunt,” said Lieschen Burger, who said she will be spending a quiet night at home with her family. She said they will pray that 2021 will be a better, healthy year for all.

Ramaphosa called on the nation to celebrate New Year’s Eve differently.

“Let us each light a candle in memory of those who have lost their lives, in tribute to those on the frontline who are working tirelessly to protect us from harm, in appreciation of the great sacrifices that have been made this past year, and in the confidence that the year ahead will bring health, peace and hope to our people,” Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation that he called a “family chat.”

During the speech, he announced a stricter curfew, banned alcohol sales and made mask-wearing mandatory following the spike in cases.

Read more: South Africa bans alcohol sales, tightens curfew to fight COVID surge

Annual New Year’s Eve celebrations have been canceled, including Johannesburg’s annual raucous dance party that attracts thousands. Instead, the mayor of South Africa's largest city will light a candle on the landmark Nelson Mandela Bridge.

Beaches where crowds usually gather on New Year's Day have been closed.

"2020 did not like us. But President Ramaphosa (did say as a nation we've been here before," said Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo.

"Against all odds, you succeeded as a nation. There is a resilience of our nation as South Africans."

The pandemic has also hit South Africa's economy hard and many have lost their jobs.

“I have not had an income since the lockdown (in April). My wife is the only one earning an income and that is not easy on the family," said Riva Reddy who lost his job in the transport industry.

“I have started selling curry, rice, and samoosas just to make some money."

He said he would pray for a job in 2021.

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