Restaurants, salons to reopen amid coronavirus surge
JOHANNESBURG - South Africa will ease lockdown rules for a third time since imposing them in March and allow a range of businesses including eat-in restaurants, casinos and beauty salons to reopen despite a steep increase in coronavirus infections.
The businesses affected employed more than 500,000 people prior to the lockdown and there was a limit as to how long they could be forced to remain shuttered, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday in a televised address. While more activity in more sectors will now be allowed to resume, the country remains on virus alert level 3 that’s been in place since the start of the month.
“We are still near the beginning of this epidemic and it will remain with us for many more months, possibly years,” Ramaphosa said. “The task of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is like running a marathon race and not a sprint, and we have therefore had to shape our response according to that reality.”
South Africa’s first coronavirus case was reported on March 5 and the country went into lockdown 22 days later, with only grocers, pharmacies and suppliers of essential services allowed to keep operating. The rules were eased with a move to alert level 4 at the start of May and again at the beginning of this month in a bid to restart the economy and counter soaring job losses and poverty.
Under the new rules, hotels, lodges and guest houses will also be allowed to reopen to tourists on a yet-to-be-announced date, but the concession doesn’t extend to home-sharing services, such as Airbnb. Theaters, cinemas, conference centers and hair salons will also be able to resume operations. All businesses will have to adhere to strict health protocols.
“The cautious opening up of sectors such as restaurants and hairdressers will help stimulate employment as those industries employ a lot of people, even though they are mainly small companies,” Melanie Verwoerd, an independent political analyst and former ruling party lawmaker, said by phone from Cape Town.
Ramaphosa made no mention of plans to lift a ban on tobacco sales, which is being challenged in court.
South Africa has 80,412 confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,674 fatalities, with the number of cases currently doubling about every 12 days. There have been more than 2,100 new cases daily for the past 14 days, a proliferation that in part reflects increased testing.
While initially the vast majority of people diagnosed with the disease were from Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, the caseload has recently spiked in the Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital, as well as in the Eastern Cape province.
Ramaphosa also used his address to condemn violence targeting women and children that has claimed at least 21 lives over recent weeks, and said his government had taken several steps to clamp down on the scourge. Many of the crimes occurred since a ban on alcohol sales was scrapped on June 1.
“We need to examine the effect of alcohol abuse not only on levels of violence, but also on road accidents and reckless behavior,” the president said. “If alcohol intoxication is contributing to these crimes, then it must be addressed with urgency.”