South Africa opens its borders, economy but cautions on COVID-19 resurgence

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

BOUYED by declining COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths, South Africa has all but lifted restrictions on economic and social activity but warned of a possible resurgence.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that the country will move to a “new normal”, under COVID-19 alert level 1.

Under the “new normal”, South African wills be required to exercise caution, social distancing, good hygiene and wear a mask at all times. 

In terms of the new minor restrictions, the country will gradually open its borders to allow for international travel.

From September 21, the following changes will come into force:

  • The number of people attending funerals has been increased from 50 to 100. Night vigils remained banned.
  • Gatherings may not exceed 50 % of venue capacity with a maximum number of 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors.
  • The curfew will be from midnight to 4am.
  • The sale of alcohol will be permitted from Monday to Friday – from 09h00 to 17h00.
  • Alcohol will be permitted for on-site consumption in licensed establishments with strict adherence to the curfew.
  • The number of people allowed in a retail store, restaurant, cinema or other public spaces remains limited to 50% of normal capacity.

 “We have withstood the coronavirus storm. Now is the time to return our country, its people and our economy to a situation that is more normal, that more resembles the lives we were living six months ago,” Ramaphosa said.

On international travel, he outlined the conditions under which international travel will be allowed. 

This includes that:

  • Travellers must be in possession of a Covid-negative certificate that is not older than 72 hours.
  • Those who land without a certificate will be forced into a 14 day quarantine at their own costs.
  • Travel may be restricted to and from countries that are deemed to be high risk.
  • Only King Shaka International, OR Tambo International and Cape Town International will be open for international flights.
  • A limited number of border posts remain open at South Africa’s land borders.
  • Travellers will be asked to download the COVID Alert South Africa mobile app.

Ramaphosa said: “We are ready to open our doors again to the world, and invite travellers to enjoy our mountains, our beaches, our vibrant cities and our wildlife game parks in safety and confidence.

Ramaphosa said the changes were possible because the impressive progress South Africa has made.

He said:  “We have endured a fierce and destructive storm. But, by standing together, by remaining resolute, we have withstood it.  Two months ago, at the height of the storm, we were recording around 12,000 new cases a day.  Now, we are on average recording less than 2,000 cases a day.  We now have a recovery rate of 89%.

“Even as restrictions have eased over the last month with our move to alert level 2, there has been a gradual, but steady, decline in new infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Demand for hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen and other essential medical requirements has also reduced steadily.  We have succeeded in overcoming the worst phase of this epidemic while protecting the capacity of our health system.

“I wish to applaud you, the people of South Africa, for this achievement and for the thousands of lives that have been saved through your collective actions.  This achievement has also been recognised by the World Health Organisation, which has been working closely with us to strengthen our response. Although we have made remarkable progress, a number of our people are still getting infected and some are losing their lives.  By any measure, we are still in the midst of a deadly epidemic.  Our greatest challenge now – and our most important task – is to ensure that we do not experience a new surge in infections.”

The South African president said due to the decline in new infections and the reduced pressure on our health facilities, the country now have sufficient testing capacity to expand the criteria for testing.

He said among the categories of people who will now be tested are all those who are admitted to hospital, outpatients with COVID symptoms, and individuals who have been in close contact with confirmed cases whether or not they themselves have symptoms.

‘Alongside increased testing, we are improving contact tracing through the deployment of the COVID Alert South Africa mobile phone app and the COVID Connect WhatsApp platform.

Effective testing and contact tracing systems will allow us to quickly identify and contain outbreaks before they spread further,” he added.