COVID update: South Africa eases restrictions immediately as it crosses the summit of its Omicron wave

South Africa has lifted a curfew from midnight to 6 p.m. 04:00 for people’s movements with immediate effect in the belief that the country has passed the top of its fourth COVID-19 wave powered by the Omicron variant.

The country made the changes based on the course of the pandemic, vaccination levels in the country and available capacity in the health sector, according to a press release issued Thursday by Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the presidency.

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South Africa is currently at the lowest of its five-stage COVID-19 preparedness levels.

“All indicators suggest that the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at the national level,” said a statement from the special cabinet meeting held earlier Thursday.

Virus outbreak South Africa Omicron
South African authorities believe the country’s fourth wave of COVID-19 has peaked. Credit: AP

Data from the health ministry showed a 29.7 percent drop in the number of new cases detected in the week ending December 25, compared to the number of cases found in the previous week, at 127,753, the government said.

With close to 3.5 million infections and 91,000 deaths, South Africa has been the worst-hit country in Africa during the pandemic at both points.

In addition to lifting restrictions on public movement, the government said assemblies will not be limited to a maximum of 1,000 people indoors and a maximum of 2,000 people outdoors.

People sign up for COVID-19 vaccination at Soweto's Baragwanath Hospital in South Africa.
People sign up for COVID-19 vaccination at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital in South Africa. Credit: Jerome Delay/AP

It also ruled that liquor stores with licenses to operate after 6 p.m. 23:00 can return to full license terms, a welcome blessing for traders and businesses hard hit by the pandemic and looking to recover during the festive season.

“Although the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there have been lower hospitalization rates than in previous waves,” the cabinet said, adding that it remained mandatory to wear masks in public places.

Failure to wear a mask in South Africa when required remains a criminal offense.

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