South Africa has lifted COVID-19 rules that made masks mandatory in indoor public places, limited the size of gatherings and introduced entry requirements at its borders, the health minister said Thursday.
South Africa has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths on the African continent, with over 3.9 million confirmed infections and over 101,000 deaths.
Health Minister Joe Fahla said authorities had noted a decline in cases, hospitalizations and reported deaths and concluded that the limited fifth wave was dissipating.
“The COVID-19 virus has not yet disappeared … we are simply stronger than before, especially thanks to vaccination,” he said at a press conference, calling on those who are eligible for revaccination but have not yet been vaccinated to come forward.
The South African vaccination campaign initially struggled with limited supplies and protracted negotiations with manufacturers, but has recently been plagued by indecision.
About half of the country’s 40 million adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 46% fully vaccinated.
Fakhla said that managers of places like restaurants, hotels and schools could still require masks in their premises, but this is no longer government policy.
If vaccine uptake does not increase significantly by November, up to 8 million doses of Pfizer PFE.N COVID vaccine could be wasted, he said, adding that the government is in talks with Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N to try to forego future supplies of the vaccine.
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said removing the requirement for travelers to show a vaccination certificate or a negative COVID test would help make South Africa more accessible and help the hospitality industry.
When asked about the country’s latest steps, Africa’s leading public health agency replied that countries are at different stages in the fight against COVID-19 and recommended data-driven strategies.
“We also expect that at this stage of the pandemic, the protocols will not be the same,” Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said at a briefing.
“We called them [countries] use their own data, the evolving situation on the ground, and their surveillance capabilities … to make any adjustments.”