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President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa eased a ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco and relaxed other lockdown restrictions as the nation’s coronavirus crisis slows down.
The country, which in late March implemented one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19, will move to so-called alert level 2 on Monday, enabling most restricted economic activity to resume, Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation on Saturday.
“We are making progress in our fight again COVID on a number of fronts,” Ramaphosa said. “Amid the signs of hope, we are ready to enter a new phase in our response to the pandemic.”
Alcohol sales for on-site consumption will only be permitted until 10 p.m., and for home consumption from Monday to Thursday.
Restrictions on international travel, gatherings of more than 50 people, and a night-time curfew will be retained, while spectators won’t be allowed at sporting events.
Bans on inter-provincial travel and social visits will be lifted, and restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen.
South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases in Africa and the fifth-most in the world, with cumulative 583,683 cases diagnosed so far. There have been 11,667 confirmed fatalities, although, new cases have been trending lower since late July.
The virus appears to have peaked in four of the nine provinces, and hospital admissions and demand for tests declined in recent weeks, Ramaphosa said.
“South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the inflection point of the curve,” he said. “It remains our foremost concern in the weeks and months ahead, to continue to save lives.”
Bans on alcohol and tobacco sales were imposed on March 27, measures the government said were necessary to reduce pressure on trauma wards and limit respiratory diseases. While sales of alcohol for home consumption were allowed to resume on June 1, the ban was reimposed on July 13 after trauma admissions surged.