The country has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Africa, with more than 3.9 million confirmed infections and 101,000 deaths.
South Africa has repealed COVID-19 rules that made masks compulsory in indoor public spaces, limited the size of gatherings and imposed entry requirements at its borders, the health minister said on Thursday.
The country has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Africa, with more than 3.9 million confirmed infections and more than 101,000 deaths.
But Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Thursday that authorities had noted a decline in reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths and concluded a limited fifth wave was dissipating.
“The COVID-19 virus is not gone yet… we are stronger than before, especially with vaccination,” he told a news conference, urging those eligible for boosters and not yet vaccinated to come forward.
South Africa’s vaccination campaign struggled initially due to limited supplies and lengthy negotiations with manufacturers, but more recently it has been dogged by hesitation.
About half of the country’s 40 million adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 46% fully vaccinated.
Phaahla said that managers of places like restaurants, hotels and schools could still require masks in their facilities, but it was no longer government policy.
If vaccine uptake doesn’t pick up significantly by November, up to 8 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine could be wasted, he said, adding that the government was negotiating with Johnson & Johnson to try to forgo future vaccine deliveries.
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 hotel industry.
Asked about the country’s latest steps, Africa’s top public health agency said countries were at different stages of dealing with COVID-19 and advised the use of data-driven strategies.
“We also hope that the protocols are not all the same during this stage of the pandemic,” Acting Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Ahmed Ogwell Ouma said at a briefing.
“We have encouraged them [countries] use their own data, the evolution of the situation on the ground and their surveillance capacity… to make any adjustments”.