Officials in South Africa believe the country has passed the peak of the fourth Covid-19 wave
The South African government lifted nighttime restrictions on citizens’ movements as of Thursday, as it has calculated that the latest coronavirus surge, driven by the new Omicron variant, has taken a downward trajectory.
“The curfew will be lifted. There will therefore be no restrictions on the hours of movement of people,” the government said in a statement as it announced the easing of Covid-19 restrictions following a special cabinet meeting. It was the first time the midnight to 4am curfew had been lifted in almost two years, since the start of the pandemic.
The African nation had seen an almost 30% decrease in new cases in the week ending December 25 compared to the previous week, the statement said. It added that the number of infections was also declining in all but two of its provinces, as was the case with hospitalizations as well, with the Western Cape being the sole exception.
“All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” the statement said. The update comes a month after the new and highly transmissible Omicron variant was first identified by South African epidemiologists. Since then, the nation’s medics have repeatedly noted that the new strain was causing less severe symptoms in patients.
Now, the government has said that, even though “the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there [have] been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves.” Citing a spare capacity for hospitalization, South Africa also eased the limits on gatherings, raising them to 1,000 people indoors and up to 2,000 outdoors.
Shops selling alcohol that are licensed to operate beyond 11pm were also allowed to “revert back to full license conditions.” Nonetheless, South Africans are still being urged to follow “basic health protocols,” and mask-wearing is still mandatory in public places, with a failure to do so constituting a criminal offense.
Last week, the Ministerial Advisory Committee estimated that 60% to 80% of South Africans had immunity to Covid-19, either through previous infection or vaccination. It said that only around 10% of the total number of Covid-19 cases had likely been diagnosed nationwide, however, as most people infected with the virus never develop significant symptoms.
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