South Africa’s government is preparing to ease restrictions that were imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus after a sustained slowdown in new infections.
Larger public gatherings are likely to be permitted, making it easier for political parties to campaign for upcoming municipal elections, according to two people with knowledge of the deliberations within government, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Alcohol trading hours are set to be extended and a night time curfew will probably be shortened, they said.
The National Coronavirus Command Council met on Tuesday to assess the rules. President Cyril Ramaphosa will discuss planned changes with officials from religious groups, political parties and civil rights groups ahead of an address to the nation in the coming days, when he’s expected to move the country to virus alert level two, from level three, the people said.
“Government has already issued a statement that conditions around the current restrictions are being examined,” acting spokesman for the presidency Tyrone Seale said by phone from Pretoria. “I have nothing to add to that.”
The imposition of stop-start curbs since the pandemic hit in March last year has shuttered thousands of businesses and added to already rampant unemployment. The economy shrank 6.4% last year, the most since at least 1994, when white-minority rule ended.
Alcohol sales are currently only permitted at retail outlets from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and at restaurants and bars up to 8 p.m. Gatherings are limited to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, while a curfew is in place from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
An easing of the restrictions would come in the wake of the Constitutional Court’s rejection of an application by electoral authorities to delay a local government vote until next year. Political parties have less than two months campaign before the Nov. 1 plebiscite.
South Africa has had more than 2.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases so far, the most on the continent, and 84,152 of those who’ve been diagnosed with the disease have died. Almost 13.9 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country so far.
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