South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has eased restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic to the country’s lowest alert level, the second such loosening this month as the country looks to open up its economy ahead of the summer holiday season.
In a televised address, Ramaphosa announced the country would move down one level in a five-tier system of restrictions, where five is the highest, to an ‘adjusted level 1’ as South Africa emerges from its third wave dominated by the Delta variant of the virus.
“The current trends in the progression of the pandemic mean that a number of the restrictions in place can be eased,” Ramaphosa said.
In addition to relaxing a curfew, now in place from midnight to 4 a.m., Ramaphosa announced that the maximum number of people permitted to gather outdoors will increase to 2,000 from 500, while the maximum number of people allowed at funerals could double to 100.
However, with local government elections set for November 1, Ramaphosa urged people to get vaccinated to help prevent a resurgence of infections, as vaccine hesitancy crimped an inoculation programme that has struggled to get out of the starting blocks.
“Campaign activities pose the greatest risk to a surge in new infections,” he said, adding that should South Africa reach its target of vaccinating 70% of its adult population by December, an estimated 20,000 lives could be saved.
Thus far around 8.6 million people, or more than one-fifth of all adults, have been fully vaccinated, he said.
On Sunday, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the country had exited its third and worst COVID-19 wave, with the national 7-day moving average of daily case numbers and percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus showing sustained decreases.
South Africa has reported just under 88,000 COVID-19 deaths and a total of 2.9 million laboratory-confirmed cases, the worst in Africa on both counts, since detecting its first infection in March last year, the latest data showed.