Cape Town - Almost two years to the day that South Africa was placed on lockdown, to halt the spread of Covid-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa once again loosened the shackles.
Ramaphosa’s announcement last night of an easing of Covid-19 emergency regulations came on the back of a significant drop in new infections and deaths.
Just before his televised speech, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced that there had been 912 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths, bringing the total number to 99 893 with a positivity rate of 4.7%.
Ramaphosa said after four waves of infection, fewer people were becoming seriously ill and requiring hospitalisation along with fewer deaths.
“Our scientists tell us that this is mainly because some 60 to 80% of the population has some form of immunity to the virus, either from previous infection or vaccination,” Ramaphosa said.
He said 48% of all adults in South Africa had received at least one Covid19 vaccine dose.
“We therefore enter the third year of this pandemic more hopeful than ever before. While the pandemic is not yet over, and while we remain cautious, we see many parts of our daily life returning to normal,” Ramaphosa said.
Due to the changing nature of the pandemic, the government intended to lift the National State of Disaster as soon as all public comment on proposed health regulations before April 16, published by Health Minister Joe Phaahla, has been completed, Ramaphosa said.
But he reiterated that “the National State of Disaster did not mean the end of the pandemic”.
He said the meeting of the Presidential Co-ordinating Council yesterday prompted the National Coronavirus Command Council to ease several restrictions as part of Adjusted Alert Level 1 which take effect today.
● Both indoor and outdoor venues can now take up to 50% of their capacity with the criteria for entrance being proof of vaccination or a Covid test not older than 72 hours.
Without proof of either, the upper limit will remain – of 1 000 people indoors and 2 000 people outdoors.
“This change to the restrictions on gatherings will be of great benefit to the sporting, cultural, entertainment and events industries in particular,” Ramaphosa said.
● The maximum number of people permitted at a funeral will increase from 100 to 200. But night vigils, after-funeral gatherings and “aftertears” gatherings are still banned.
● Masks are still required indoors but no longer have to be worn outdoors.
● Travellers entering South Africa will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours.
Ramaphosa said all unvaccinated travellers entering the country who want to be vaccinated would be offered vaccination.
He said those who were vaccinated should go and receive their booster shots.
“If we are all vaccinated, we can turn our energy, resources and effort to rebuilding our economy and creating much-needed jobs,” Ramaphosa said.
Premier Alan Winde said the that while regulations were a welcome step in the right direction which will provide relief to many job-creating businesses in the Western Cape, it should have happened some time ago.
“There is a clear lesson from this, and that is the national government needs to move faster. Too many jobs have been lost over the last two years to excuse this pace.
Winde also shared his concerned over no official end the National State of Disaster.
“The removal of some restrictions on the economy should not be viewed as a license to dither yet again. The State of Disaster is an extraordinary measure that cannot be extended indefinitely.”
He added that with the return of large events, the province will be working with its partners to get this industry “up and running” as soon as possible, including big sporting matches.
Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais also weighed in on bigger audiences being permitted at live events.
"Now that bigger numbers of people will be able to attend live events, more jobs can be created in both these industries. Our sporting stadia will also be able to generate more income and produce more opportunities for small business owners to trade again.
"The return of bigger audiences means a return to work and a bigger income for those who have struggled under the restrictions.
“We hope that we will soon see the return to venues being able to host audiences at their full capacity but for now, we are happy that at least more people will be able to go out and support the local economy through the arts and sporting sectors,” Marais said.