Ramaphosa Eases South African Virus Curbs as New Cases Abate

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa eased coronavirus restrictions as the rate of new infections dropped, scrapping most limits on alcohol sales, shortening a night-time curfew and permitting larger public gatherings.

The move to virus alert level 1, from level 3, comes a year after the first Covid-19 case was detected in the country, and will remove most remaining shackles on the struggling economy, Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday. The night-time curfew will run from midnight to 4 a.m. and alcohol sales will be allowed outside the curfew hours. Gatherings will be limited to 100 people indoors, double the previous number.

“Our approach has aways been that restrictions should not remain in place longer than is absolutely necessary,” Ramaphosa said. “The threat of the third wave is constantly present, as is the threat of new variants.”

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases has dropped to less than 1,500, from a peak of about 22,000 in early January. More than 1.5 million people in South Africa have been diagnosed with the disease, and almost 50,000 of them have died, according to Health Ministry data.

The country began a vaccination program on Feb. 17, inoculating health-care workers with a single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot and more than 67,000 have been inoculated so far. The second phase of the vaccine roll-out is due to begin in April or early May and cover the elderly and other vulnerable groups.

The country has signed a deal to buy 11 million J&J shots, with 2.8 million to be delivered in the second quarter and the rest spread throughout the year, according to Ramaphosa. Pfizer Inc. had agreed to supply South Africa with another 20 million doses while deals had been also been struck with other vaccine suppliers, he said.

“From a vaccine-availability point of view, we will be secured,” he said. “‘The number of sites that will be available for vaccination will be expanded next week from 17 sites to 49.”

Ramaphosa moved the country to virus alert level 3, from level 1, on Dec. 28 after the emergence of a virulent new variant drove a second wave of Covid-19 infections. The restrictions included a ban on alcohol sales, the closing of all land borders and most beaches, and an extended curfew.

The curbs were eased from Feb. 1, allowing liquor sales to resume subject to some limitations, and permitting access to beaches, parks and other public spaces, while some land borders were reopened on Feb. 15.

“The country has now clearly emerged from the second wave,” Ramaphosa said. “Most people adhered to the together restrictions and adhered to the basic health protocols.”

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