South Africa to reopen casinos and cinemas despite COVID-19 spread

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will allow casinos and cinemas to reopen and restaurants to resume sit-down meals on Monday in a further easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions despite a sharp rise in infections.

The country began easing restrictions put in place in March last month and at the beginning of June allowed people outside for work, worship, exercise or shopping, and let mines and factories to run at full capacity to try to revive the economy.

It has recorded 118,375 infections of the highly contagious respiratory disease and 2,292 deaths and daily case numbers rose by more than 6,500 on Thursday after less than 1,000 in April.

But tourism is an important revenue-earner and three months of lockdown has left many businesses fighting for survival.

“We are continuing with the effort to reactivate the tourism sector so that we can save businesses and jobs in the sector,” Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said in a televised briefing, after warning last month that up to 600,000 jobs were at risk if the sector remained shut until September.

Business travel has been allowed from June 1, but overnight leisure stays are still forbidden to try to contain the spread of the virus.

Kubayi-Ngubane said casinos would operate at 50% capacity, while cinemas and theatres would only be allowed 50 people or less. Restaurants, fast food outlets and coffee shops could offer sit-in services in addition to the take-aways they had already been allowed but would not be able to serve alcohol.

Tourism Business Council of South Africa chief executive Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said many restaurants might find it unprofitable to reopen without on on-site alcohol consumption.

“At the end of it all it goes some way but we’re still far off and businesses are going to continue to bleed, retrenchments are coming in large volumes,” he said in an interview on news broadcaster eNCA.

Reporting by Tumelo Modiba; editing by Nqobile Dludla and Philippa Fletcher