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By S’thembile Cele and Paul Vecchiatto
(Bloomberg) – South Africa’s government bowed to pressure from religious groups and increased the number of those allowed to attend public gatherings, even as fears grow of an impending resurgence in coronavirus infections.
As many as 250 people can now attend indoor activities and 500 outdoors, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on Tuesday night. The raised limit will be reviewed in 15 days, allowing festivals such as Easter and Passover to come and go under eased restrictions.
The decision came after days of debate about how South Africa should address an upcoming holiday period that sees millions of people travel to see family and friends and attend religious ceremonies. While active Covid-19 case numbers have dropped dramatically since January, the country lags behind emerging-market peers in vaccinations, with only 240,000 health workers inoculated to date.
That’s raised fears of a third wave of the pandemic currently gripping much of mainland Europe. Yet despite imposing one of the strictest lockdowns worldwide a year ago, South Africa has been more hesitant to close business activity lately to allow the economy to recuperate.
Ramaphosa did turn to one familiar weapon against the coronavirus: A ban on alcohol sales. But even that was limited to the four-day holiday weekend starting Friday and only applies to off-site sales. Restaurants, bars and similar establishments may still serve thirsty guests.
In contrast, South Africa has previously imposed three total bans over the past year, lasting a combined three and a half months.
Ramaphosa said that, despite some delays procuring vaccine supplies, the country has secured enough doses for two-thirds of the population of about 60 million people.
– With assistance from Janice Kew.
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