Covid limits eased in SA even as more test positive

Curfew lifted with immediate effect.
Image: Bloomberg

South Africa eased restrictions meant to stop the spread of coronavirus even as the percentage of people testing positive for the disease exceeded 20% for the 19th straight day.

The government lifted a curfew that was in place from midnight to 4 a.m. with immediate effect and allowed establishments selling alcohol to operate beyond 11 p.m. Wearing of masks in public will remain mandatory, according to a statement.

“All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele said in emailed statement issued after a cabinet meeting on Thursday. He cited a drop in new cases for the week ending Dec. 25 and the availability of hospital beds.

The move to ease restrictions may stem from South Africa’s push to recover from its biggest economic contraction in at least a quarter century last year, and spur spending during the holiday season. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate gross domestic product expanded 4.9% in 2021, slower than a previous projection. Meanwhile, test positivity rate rose on Thursday to 28.1%, far exceeding the 5% that the World Health Organization deems tolerable.

“Numbers are still up in South Africa, especially the positivity rate,” Tulio de Oliveira, the head of gene sequencing institutions in South Africa who presented findings about omicron last month, said on Twitter. “We are still not out of the woods.”

Africa’s most-industrialised nation also reported 126 deaths on Thursday, the most since the discovery of the omicron variant. Hospitalisations also increased.

Other rules eased by the government include:

  • Indoor gatherings are now restricted to 1,000 people (previous 750), outdoor gatherings to 2,000, no more than 50% of capacity of an indoor venue may be used
  • Establishments selling alcohol will revert back to full license conditions

© 2021 Bloomberg

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