May 13, 2020 / 7:34 PM / 15 days ago

South Africa to ease coronavirus restrictions cautiously: Ramaphosa

FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment facilities at the NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa April 24, 2020. Jerome Delay/Pool via REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday he aimed to further ease restrictions imposed to curb the new coronavirus, but places with the most infections likely would remain into June on “alert level 4” of a five-level system.

Ramaphosa imposed one of the world’s toughest lockdowns in late March, with restrictions only easing slightly from May 1 when the country moved to a five-level alert system where five represents the most restrictions.

He said in an address to the nation on Wednesday that the strict measures were necessary to improve the readiness of the country’s health facilities and prevent additional deaths. The country moved from level 5 to level 4 on May 1.

“We will therefore continue to proceed cautiously,” he said. “Our goal is to steadily increase economic activity while putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of the virus and provide adequate care for those who become infected and need treatment.”

Africa’s most industrialised economy has recorded 219 coronavirus deaths, with 12,074 confirmed cases, Ramaphosa said.

“We will immediately begin a process of consultation with relevant stakeholders on a proposal that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3, but that those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on level 4,” he said.

Ramaphosa said it was important to maintain stringent restrictions in metropolitan areas, where infections are greatest. Under level 3, more businesses will be allowed to operate and more goods to be sold.

Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Sandra Maler and Howard Goller

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