South Africa lifts some coronavirus restrictions after cases drop

Healthcare workers assist patients being treated at a makeshift hospital run by charity organisation The Gift of the Givers, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 11, 2021. Picture taken July 11, 2021. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham
  • Ramaphosa says country has passed third wave peak
  • S.Africa to get 31 mln doses of vaccine over three months
  • Govt offers grants to people hurt by pandemic, looting

JOHANNESBURG, July 25 (Reuters) - South Africa on Sunday lifted restrictions on the sale of alcohol on weekdays and the movement of people between provinces as President Cyril Ramaphosa said a third wave of the coronavirus may have peaked.

Africa's most industrialised country, which accounts for over a third of total COVID-19 infections and 40% of deaths related to the disease on the continent, had seen a severe third wave of infections over the past month spurred by the Delta variant but case numbers began to decline in recent days.

"The latest figures suggest that we have largely passed the peak of the third wave of infections," Ramaphosa said in a televised speech to the nation, but cautioned that some provinces were still seeing a rise in cases.

He moved the country down to an 'adjusted level 3' of coronavirus restrictions from immediate effect, under a five-level system with five being the highest.

Under level 3, people can travel between provinces for leisure. Ramaphosa also announced that a night-time curfew would start an hour later at 10 p.m. It would still finish at 4 a.m.

The sale of alcohol from retail outlets will be permitted from Monday to Thursday and restaurants will also be allowed to serve liquor, he said.

However, restrictions imposed on indoor and outdoor gatherings would be maintained.

Infection rates, after hitting a peak of about 26,500 cases a day in early July, have declined to an average of around 12,000 per day in the last seven days, with the worst hit province Gauteng, home to South Africa's biggest city Johannesburg, reporting a steep fall in new cases.

The government would also open up COVID-19 vaccinations to people in the 18-to-34 age group from Sept. 1, Ramaphosa said.

South Africa will get 31 million doses of the Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N)vaccines over the next three months that will ensure the country has sufficient vaccines for the rest of the year, he said.

South Africa has so far completely vaccinated only 4% of its population of roughly 60 million people.

Ramaphosa said his government will offer 350 rand ($23.58)monthly relief under a grant to those affected by COVID-19 restrictions and by a week of violence and arson, one of the worst since the end of white-minority rule in South Africa.

($1 = 14.8428 rand)

Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Alex Richardson, Susan Fenton and Jonathan Oatis

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