South Africa’s president has said coronavirus infections appear to have lessened in the country, as he announced a complete relaxation of lockdown measures. President Cyril Ramaphosa warned against complacency despite these signs of hope.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said nearly all restrictions on the country’s economy would be eased from Monday. A contentious ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco will be lifted. Domestic travel, small family gatherings and the reopening of businesses will also all be allowed.
In a TV address on Saturday, Mr Ramaphosa said the easing of restrictions would help to revive the country’s languishing economy after a period of great hardship for the country. However, he called on South Africans not to let their guard down against Covid-19 despite signs of hope, reminding of difficult times ahead.
The country has recorded more than half of Africa’s coronavirus infections, with more than 570,000 cases and 11,500 deaths to date. South Africa also has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world after the US, Brazil, Russia and India, but infections have started to dip in recent days.
President Ramaphosa said the number of new daily confirmed cases had dropped from a peak of more than 12,000 to an average of 5,000 over the past week. The number of active cases has declined to about 105,000, and the recovery rate rose to 80%, the president said.
Praising his government’s response to the pandemic, President Ramaphosa spoke of a new phase, and signs of hope. The official death toll is 11,000. But a quick, aggressive response has enabled most hospitals and provinces to contain an outbreak many feared would overwhelm the nation.
The economical price has been devastating, though. President Ramaphosa spoke of hardship and hunger for millions and warned it would take years to rebuild the economy. There are still significant concerns about the second wave of infections, which, Mr Ramphosa warned, could be worse than the first.
What lockdown restrictions have been lifted?
Ramaphosa said, as of midnight on 17 August, South Africa will move to level two of its five-stage coronavirus alert system. “The move to level two means that we can remove nearly all of the restrictions on the resumption of economic activity across most industries,” he said.
Mr Ramaphosa said his government would end the ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol sales were prohibited from easing pressure on hospitals, and tobacco products were restricted due to the risk of spreading Covid-19 via the sharing of cigarettes.
President Ramaphosa said travel between provinces will now be allowed, but restrictions on international arrivals will remain in place.
He said other restrictions would remain in force as well, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and crowds at sporting events.
Many South Africans will be relieved that the lockdown is easing.
Read the full speech on the government website