South Africa Eases COVID-19 Lockdown As Vaccinations Reduce Infections

Johannesburg, Sep 12: South Africa on Sunday reduced the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to Level 2 of its five-level lockdown strategy, largely due to vaccinations having decreased the severity of illness in those who are infected, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced. Ramaphosa, in a national address, said that people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are far less likely to die of the disease.

There is now overwhelming evidence from hundreds of countries that vaccines are safe and provide strong protection. We know that a vaccinated person can still be infected and can still pass on the virus to others. But what we are seeing is that very few people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are becoming severely ill with the disease, and very few are ending up in ICU or needing ventilation, he said.

More than seven million South Africans are now fully vaccinated, with the pace increasing as a million doses are administered every four to five days. Ramaphosa said that the government has secured sufficient vaccines to vaccinate the entire adult population, and the supply of vaccines is no longer a constraint, although there was a concern that more women than men were coming forward to be vaccinated.

We now have more than 3,000 public and private vaccination sites across the country, and most private sites will vaccinate any member of the public for free, whether you have health insurance or not. I want to stress that the vaccination programme is open to all people in South Africa, whether or not they are South African citizens, Ramaphosa said as he cautioned that mutations could still have an impact.

It is important to bear in mind that this is a new virus that the world has never encountered before, he said. Although nobody can predict how the virus will mutate further, the scientific community has developed innovative ways of tracking the emergence of new variants, the President said.

If many people are not vaccinated and remain vulnerable to infection, the chance of new and more dangerous variants emerging is far greater. That is why vaccines are currently the most potent weapon we have to fight this pandemic, he said. The main changes in the reduced lockdown restrictions that come into effect from Monday are an increase in the number of people who can gather at public events from 50 to 250 indoors and from 100 to 500 outdoors.

Funerals, however, remain restricted to 50 people, with events after funerals still prohibited. The night curfew has been reduced by an hour to start at 11 PM and end at 4 AM daily.

Political parties have welcomed these changes, as it will now allow them to campaign ahead of the local government elections scheduled across the country for November 1, but religious leaders have queried the decision on numbers at funerals. Alcohol sales, which were previously allowed only from Mondays to Thursdays, will now also be allowed on Fridays.

Ramaphosa said the easing of restrictions will be reviewed in a fortnight.

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