S. Africa eases lockdown restrictions as COVID-19 cases decline


People practice social distancing as they queue outside a Telkom branch during the COVID-19 outbreak in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 2, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

JOHANNESBURG - As COVID-19 cases decline, South African cabinet eased lockdown restrictions from alert level three to level one, allowing political and religious gatherings, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday night.

"In the week that has just passed, the country recorded just under 10,000 new infections," Ramaphosa said. "A month ago, in the last week of January, the country recorded over 40,000 new cases. And a month before that, in the last week of December, the country recorded close to 90,000 new cases."

Due to the decline in infections, the country can now "cautiously" ease some of the restrictions on movement and activities, he said.

Religious, social, political and cultural gatherings will be permitted, subject to limitations on size, adherence to social distancing and other health protocols.

The hours of the curfew will now be from 12 midnight to 4 am.

The sale of alcohol will be permitted, according to normal licence provisions.

However, night vigils or other gatherings before or after funerals are still not permitted. Nightclubs will remain closed. The 33 land border posts that have been closed throughout this period will remain closed. The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory.

Ramaphosa said the return to Level 1 means that most of the remaining restrictions on economic activities have been removed. "We expect this to lead to higher consumption spending, bolstered by the steady recovery in employment."

The president said South Africa has now clearly emerged from the second wave which "was far more devastating and caused greater loss of life than the first wave".

He believed the dramatic decline in cases over eight weeks is due to a combination of the public health measures introduced and accumulating immunity in those who became infected.

He said more than 67,000 health workers who are on the frontline of fighting against COVID-19 have been vaccinated in the last ten days.

"We are steadily increasing the number of doses administered each day. All provinces have established vaccination sites and have put in place plans for the expansion of the programs as it gains momentum," he added.

He said phase two of the vaccine rollout would begin in April or May, after the vaccination of medical workers is completed.

"Phase two will include the elderly, essential workers, persons living or working in institutional settings and those with co-morbidities," he said.

Ramaphosa said South Africa has secured 11 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, 20 million doses from Pfizer, 12 million doses from COVAX - a multinational vaccine-sharing initiative backed by the World Health Organization - and is in the process of finalizing dose allocation from the African Union.

"We are in constant contact with various other vaccine manufacturers to ensure that we have the necessary quantities of vaccines when we need them," he added.


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