JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – 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 4AM, 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 percent 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.
South Africa’s third wave appears now officially over, with new cases falling from over 20,000 a day during the wave’s peak to an average of just over 1,800 per day over the last seven days.
Ramaphosa warned that the vaccination programme in South Africa — the worst-hit country in Africa by the virus — was still “far too slow” and urged South Africans to get vaccinated if they want to return to a normal way of life.
He said South Africans might soon be able to attend sports events, music concerts and other cultural events, which have all been off-limits since the pandemic began, but only if vaccination rates increase.
South Africa set itself a target of administering between 300,000 and 400,000 doses a day but has been averaging around 150,000 daily in recent weeks. Africa’s most developed economy has fully vaccinated less than 15 percent of its 60 million people and has recorded more than 2.9 million virus cases and more than 87,000 deaths from Covid-19.
South Africa will now administer vaccines on weekends, which it hasn’t previously, to get the numbers up.
Ramaphosa also said the government would introduce a national vaccine certificate, possibly giving notice that businesses, places of worship and bars and restaurants might soon require a vaccine certificate for entry.