JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's government has lifted a ban on liquor sales and relaxed other pandemic restrictions, reporting that a recent spike in coronavirus cases has passed its peak, the president said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation Sunday night that the average daily number of new confirmed cases over the last week was around 12,000, which was a 20% drop from the previous week.
“The latest figures suggest that we have largely passed the peak of the third wave of infections, although there are areas in the country where we still need to be concerned because the rates of infection have not yet shown signs of decline,” Ramaphosa said.
The government is allowing retail alcohol sales to resume from Monday through Thursday, while bars and restaurants also will be permitted to sell alcoholic beverages. Schools have fully reopened, and social and religious gatherings are again allowed for a maximum of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. A nighttime curfew has been reduced to 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Ramaphosa also announced the reinstatement of a monthly relief grant of 350 rand ($23.50) for unemployed South Africans until next March. An estimated 2 million jobs have been lost since last year due to the pandemic, according to the country’s official statistics.
While new confirmed cases are declining in South Africa, many other countries in Africa are seeing increased COVID-19 cases, driven by the delta variant.
To accelerate its mass vaccination campaign, South Africa will start giving shots on weekends and will make them available to younger residents ages 18 and above starting September 1. Currently, vaccines are limited to people 35 and up.
“In the coming weeks, we will substantially increase the rate of vaccination,” said Ramaphosa.
South Africa, which has a population of 60 million, has administered over 6.3 million vaccine doses. The rate of inoculations needs to increase for the country to reach its target of having 67% of the population fully vaccinated by February.
According to Ramaphosa, 31 million doses of Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be delivered in the next two to three months, while negotiations with other manufacturers are continuing.
In describing South Africa's efforts to curb the pandemic, Ramapahosa lamented the violent riots this month sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, saying the unrest was like “fighting a battle on two fronts.”
More than 300 people died and more than 2,500 people have been arrested for theft and vandalism resulting from the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces.
The deployment of 25,000 army troops helped quell the rioting. Ramaphosa said his government would seek restitution for businesses that suffered more than 20 billion rand ($1.35 billion) in damage and also would assist poor South Africans.
The state-owned insurance company, SASRIA, will expedite claims by insured businesses for riot-related damage, and the government plans to announce support measures for smaller, uninsured businesses, Ramaphosa said.
“I want to make it clear that law and order will be maintained," the president said. "There will be further arrests, particularly of those who conceptualized, planned, and executed these actions that have led to so much destruction and loss of life.”