ALL eyes are on Zimbabwe after South Africa further eased the country’s Covid-19 lockdown measures.
This comes as Zimbabwe is under a rigid lockdown, which includes a dusk-to-dawn curfew decreed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in July.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday night swept aside most of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in a bold move intended to restart an economy shattered by nearly five months of shutdown.
Level 2 takes effect from midnight today, when restrictions on booze, cigarettes, inter-provincial travel and personal and family visits will largely fall away. Bans will remain on spectators at live sport, and on international travel.
However, bars, taverns and restaurants will be able to serve alcohol to sitting patrons until 10pm.
The president’s announcement comes after a week of intense consultations, highlighted by pleas and warnings from the business sector that South Africa’s economy is on its knees and that urgent action is needed.
The new regulations will be especially well received by the tourism sector, which has been warning of a jobs bloodbath of up to 600 000 posts unless inter-provincial travel is permitted again.
The decision comes as the daily Covid-19 infection rate average has fallen dramatically and now stands at just below 5 000 a day.
Ramaphosa said this improvement, and lower-than-expected hospitalisation rates, influenced the cabinet’s decision to move to Level 2.
“As we look back at the past five months, all indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the inflection point of the curve. Most of our health facilities have proven resilient, capable and able to withstand and deal with the surge.
“The modelled projections of infections, hospitalisation and deaths have had to be adjusted downwards as we have recorded better progress in the management of the disease.”
Ramaphosa said the decision was based on advice from health experts.
“We have concluded that the lower rate of infections we are experiencing should lead to the relaxation of the restrictions we have had thus far,” he said.
By Saturday night, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases stood at 583 653.
Ramaphosa revealed that the number of hospitalised patients had gone down from 10 000 to about 4 000.
“This is significantly reducing the pressure on our health facilities,” he said.
The number of Covid-related deaths reached 11 667 on Saturday, but the recovery rate had risen to ‘‘an incredible 80 percent’’, from 48 percent when Ramaphosa last addressed the nation.
The lifting of the ban on cigarettes and booze sales will provide a much-needed boost to the fiscus, which has been hammered even as a flourishing black market has gained a foothold, turning millions of otherwise law-abiding South Africans into criminal suspects overnight.
Smokers will finally have access to popular brands of cigarettes at their normal price at their nearest outlets. Bars will open their doors for the first time in almost five months under strict regulations. Liquor stores will be allowed to sell alcohol between Monday and Thursday.
However, other restrictions — including a 50-person limit on gatherings, a curfew in force between 10pm and 4am and wearing of face masks in public — remain in place.
The Cabinet also advised citizens over the age of 60 to continue to stay indoors. Although family visits will be allowed, the Cabinet advised they happen only when necessary. — TimesLive