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Coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant

The South African government has announced it will relax some Covid-19 restrictions with immediate effect following a decline in both new coronavirus cases and hospital admissions, adding that “all indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak” of the fourth wave. 

According to a government statement issued Thursday, the national curfew will now be lifted and alcohol establishments licensed to operate beyond 11 p.m. local time will revert back to their full license conditions.

Previously, under “Alert Level 1” regulations, a curfew had been in place from midnight until 4 a.m. local time, with the sale of alcohol not permitted during these hours. 

Under new guidance, public gatherings will also now be restricted to no more than 1,000 people indoors — as opposed to 750 people — with outdoor gatherings still limited to 2,000 people.

According to data from the South African Department of Health, a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases was reported in the week ending Dec. 25, in comparison to the previous week. 

While data has shown a “marginal increase” in deaths across all provinces, the department of health has seen a decline in hospital admissions across the country, with the exception of the Western Cape.

“While the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there has been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves. This means that the country has spare capacity for admission of patients even for routine health services,” the government said in its statement. 

Despite the easing of some restrictions, the government has cautioned that the risk of an increase in infections remains high, owing to the transmissibility of the Omicron variant. 

In light of this, the wearing of masks in public places will continue to be enforced as a mandatory measure, and citizens are urged to continue observing public health protocols. 

“Vaccination remains the best defence against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. All people in South Africa who have not yet done so are encouraged to vaccinated as soon as possible,” the government statement continued. 

The announcement comes a week after the government outlined its new quarantine regulations, with those exposed to a positive coronavirus case no longer required to quarantine or test unless they develop symptoms. 

Those who have been exposed to a positive case, but remain asymptomatic, will instead be asked to practice “self-observation” for five to seven days to monitor for the development of symptoms.  

Contact tracing has also been halted in South Africa, with the exception of cluster outbreaks or self-contained settings. 

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