South Africa hails success in tackling virus; reopens borders

With South Africa’s coronavirus crisis receding, the government announced a reopening of the nation’s international borders and an easing of most other lockdown rules.

Business and leisure travel will be allowed from October 1, although entry may be denied to people from countries that have high infection rates, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address on Wednesday. International travellers will need to present a negative Covid-19 test result that’s not more than 72 hours old, or face mandatory quarantine, he said.

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“Levels of infections are relatively low and there is sufficient capacity in our health system to manage the current need,” Ramaphosa said. “It is now time to remove as many of the remaining restrictions on economic and social activity as it is reasonably safe to do.”

The government imposed a lockdown in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus, halting almost all cross-border travel and shuttering most businesses. The measures brought Africa’s most industrialised economy to a near standstill, with gross domestic product shrinking an annualised 51% in the three months through June from the previous quarter.

The restrictions have been progressively relaxed since May, enabling millions of people to return to work.

Curfew, alcohol

Ramaphosa announced the easing of the so-called virus alert to the lowest level from September 21. A night-time curfew was shortened by two hours, and the times when alcohol may be sold was extended. Limits on the number of people attending public gatherings were also relaxed.

South Africa has diagnosed 651 521 coronavirus cases so far, the most in Africa. Almost 90% of those who contracted the disease have recovered and new infections have slowed from a peak of more than 14 000 a day in July to 772 cases reported on Tuesday. The country has also seen declining hospital and intensive-care unit admissions, and fatalities.

“By any measure we are still in the midst of a deadly epidemic,” Ramaphosa said. “Our greatest challenge now and our most important task is to ensure that we do not experience a new surge in infections. Several countries around the world have been hit by a second wave or a resurgence of infections. We want to avoid this.”

Other highlights:

  • Venues for social, religious, political and other gatherings will be allowed to utilise half their normal capacity.
  • A maximum of 250 people will be allowed at indoor gatherings and 500 at outdoor gatherings.
  • A maximum of 100 people will be allowed to attend funerals.
  • The government will extend criteria for testing.
  • Travellers will only be able to use land border posts that remained operational during the lockdown or the three main airports.
  • The curfew will run from midnight to 4 a.m.
  • Alcohol for home consumption can be sold from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for onsite consumption outside of the curfew hours.

© 2020 Bloomberg