President urges caution against more contagious Covid variant as SA moves to level 1

After a significant decrease in new Covid-19 infections — from 90 000 weekly in December to just under 10 000 in the last week of February — the country has moved to lockdown level 1.

South Africans now have a later curfew, can enjoy slightly larger gatherings, and alcohol sales are almost back to normal. But President Cyril Ramaphosa said the adjusted restrictions must be met with caution.  

He called a family meeting with South Africans after a cabinet decision to move the country from adjusted level 3 to level 1. 

“The country has now clearly emerged from the second wave. New infections, admissions to hospital and deaths have fallen significantly and continue to decline steadily,” said Ramaphosa. 

He attributes the decline in cases to “a combination of the public health measures introduced, changes in behaviour and accumulating immunity in those who became infected in our communities”.

Level 1 entails:

  • A later curfew, from midnight to 4am;
  • Religious, social, political and cultural gatherings are allowed to host 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors. Gatherings are still subject to the health protocols of social distancing, hand sanitising and wearing masks; 
  • It is still mandatory to wear face masks in public and not doing so can still result in a criminal offence; and
  • Trading hours for alcohol sales is almost back to normal. 

“The sale of alcohol will be permitted, according to normal licence provisions. However, no alcohol may be sold during the hours of the curfew,” said Ramaphosa. He added that only 20 land borders are open. Five airports — OR Tambo, Cape Town, King Shaka, Kruger Mpumalanga and Lanseria — are open for international travel. 

In the light of the more contagious Covid-19 variant, 501Y.v2, Ramaphosa urged South Africans not to let their guard down. 

“Because the new variant is transmitted more easily, it has the potential to infect more people, place a greater strain on our health system and lead to a greater loss of life.

Therefore social distancing is even more critical,” says Ramaphosa.

On Sunday, the health department reported 1 168 new Covid-19 cases and 52 more Covid-19 related deaths. South Africa’s Covid-19 death toll is 49 993.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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