South African health authorities have agreed to lift a midnight curfew after the number of omicron cases of COVID-19 was beginning to slow down, it was reported Thursday. South Africa is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus in Africa, with more than 3.4 million cases recorded and 91,000 deaths.
The Government agreed to the changes based on the trajectory of the pandemic, levels of vaccination in the country and available capacity in the health sector. Thus, the country where the omicron variant was first detected, said Thursday that many restrictions, including a night-time curfew, would be lifted after the country overcame its latest wave of infections.
Calls for the midnight to 4 am curfew to be lifted had been mounting among operators in the hospitality sector ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations, with owners launching an online petition addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The curfew will be lifted. There will therefore be no restrictions on the hours of movement of people, the presidency said in a statement. All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level, the statement went on.
New infections dropped by 29.7 percent last week compared to the preceding seven days. Hospital admissions have declined in eight of South Africa's nine provinces. While the omicron variant is highly transmissible, there has been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves, the statement said. This means that the country has a spare capacity for admission of patients even for routine health services.
Mask wearing remains compulsory in public spaces and public gatherings are limited to 1,000 people indoors and 2,000 outdoors.
Data from South Africa's Health Ministry showed a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending Dec. 25 compared to the number of cases found in the previous week, at 127,753, the government said.
The South African Government also ruled that alcohol shops with licenses to operate beyond 11 pm may revert back to full license conditions, a welcome boom for traders and businesses hard hit by the pandemic and looking to recover during the holiday season.
The decision announced by the Presidency on Thursday followed meetings of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and the President's Coordinating Council (PCC), which received updates on the management of the current fourth wave of COVID-19 in South Africa. The wave is currently being driven by the Omicron variant.
Gatherings are restricted to no more than 1,000 people indoors and no more than 2,000 people outdoors. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used. All other restrictions remain in place, according to the Government's statement.
Minister of Police Bheki Cele had warned Wednesday people would be arrested if they were out in public after midnight on Friday to celebrate the advent of the New Year, which is believed to have prompted the Government's decision to coiunter the possible actions of ultraproductive law enforcement officers.
All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” the Presidency said, adding that cases had declined in all but two of the country's nine provinces over the past week. Other factors included the levels of vaccination in the country; lower rates of hospitalization, which have not resulted in capacity being overloaded as with previous waves; and the marginal increase in the number of deaths in all provinces.
The NCCC will continue to closely monitor the situation and will make further adjustments as necessary, particularly if pressure on health facilities increases,” the statement said as it also reminded people that wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear it when required remains a criminal offence.
With schools due to start opening in the next fortnight, parents have also been encouraged to use the available time to get their children older than 12 years to get vaccinated. “This will avoid learners losing school time as a result of testing positive or as a result of contact with people infected with COVID-19,” the Presidency said.
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