South Africa will reopen its borders to most countries next month, the president said Wednesday, part of a wider easing of anti-coronavirus measures announced as figures continue to improve.
The continent’s most industrialised economy shuttered its borders at the start of a strict nationwide lockdown on March 27 to limit the spread of the virus.
Restrictions on movement and business have been gradually eased since June, but borders stayed sealed to avoid importing the virus from abroad.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday said most remaining rules will be rolled back from September 20, and that international travel would “gradually and cautiously” resume on October 1st.
“We have withstood the coronavirus storm,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.
“It is time to move to what will become our new normal for as long as the coronavirus is with us.”
Under the new measures, most gatherings will be permitted at 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, with a cap of 250 people for indoor events.
A 10:00 pm curfew will be scaled back to midnight and a 50-person limit at recreational facilities will be lifted.
Restrictions on sporting events remain in place, however, and face-masks will still be required in public.
Travel may also be restricted to and from countries with “high infection rates”, Ramaphosa added, explaining that a list would be determined based on “latest scientific data… from those countries”.
– ‘Ready to open our doors’ –
South Africa has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 651,000 infections and over 15,600 deaths recorded to date — around half the total number of cases detected on the continent.
The lockdown, one of the strictest in the world, dealt a severe blow to an already ailing economy and many livelihoods have been lost as a result.
Gross Domestic Product contracted 16.4 percent in the second quarter of 2020 due to the pandemic, and by more than half compared to the same period last year.
Tourism, one of the country’s main economic drivers, has been particularly affected.
“Our economy and society have suffered great devastation,” Ramaphosa said.
“It is now time to remove as many of the remaining restrictions… as it is reasonably safe to do so.”
The president said the country had “succeeded in overcoming the worst” of its outbreak.
He noted that the number of new cases had dropped from an average of 12,000 per day at “the height of the storm” in July to fewer than 2,000.
South Africa will start by reopening its three main airports in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
Travellers will be either be required to present a negative Covid-19 test result taken less than 72 hours prior, or quarantine at their own cost.
All will be screened upon arrival and asked to install a coronavirus tracing app on their mobile phone.
“We are ready to open our doors again to the world,” Ramaphosa said. “And invite travellers to enjoy our mountains, our beaches, our vibrant cities and our wildlife game parks in safety and confidence.”