South Africa eases Covid-19 restrictions, masks no longer mandatory outdoors

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said restrictive Covid-19 regulations that have weighed on the nation’s struggling economy for two years would be removed on Wednesday, with the national state of disaster also to end soon.

The state of disaster currently regulates the country’s Covid-19 rules and has been in place since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Its extension last week until April 15 drew criticism from businesses hard hit by its measures.

Ramaphosa said in a live television broadcast that the state of disaster would only end once a public consultation on new regulations to replace it was complete, but a number of the restrictions would be eased from Wednesday.

“This change… will be of great benefit to the sporting, cultural, entertainment and events industries in particular,” he said, referring to a relaxation of restrictions on the number of people allowed at gatherings or attending venues.

Other changes included the removal of a requirement to wear masks outdoors. Ramaphosa said masks would still be required on public transport, offices and malls but “not when we are walking in our streets or in an open space, exercising outdoors or jogging or attending an outdoor gathering.”

Ramaphosa said fewer people were becoming ill and there were fewer deaths than before.

“Our scientists tell us that this is because 60-80 percent of the population has some form of immunity to the virus — either from previous infection or vaccination,” he added.

All venues can now fill to 50-percent of their capacity, as long as people prove either that they’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19 or had a negative diagnosis.

If not, the existing restrictions on venues remain in place.

Foreign visitors would be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test, Ramaphosa said.

Africa’s most industrialised nation is continent’s worst-affected in terms of confirmed infections and deaths, which stood at over 3.7 million and 99,893 respectively as of Tuesday, authorities said.

The country has been in an ‘adjusted level 1’ lockdown, or the lowest of a five-tier system of restrictions, since October last year, but infections and deaths have dropped.

Business people, scientists and campaign groups were among those to criticise the extension of the national state of disaster. Some argued it was not necessary given infection rates were currently relatively low and past restrictions had not prevented Covid-19’s spread.

Kenya and Namibia are some of the African countries that recently relaxed Covid-19 regulations, including lifting the mandatory wearing of masks. – Reuters

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