South Africa will allow most economic sectors including mining and manufacturing to fully resume operations from next month as the country further eases coronavirus lockdown regulations, the government said yesterday.
Africa’s most industrialised economy has been largely shut since a nationwide lockdown began in late March.
South Africa has reported 25,937 cases of the new coronavirus, with 552 deaths.
“This is the most significant reopening of the economy since the lockdown began...It opens up all of our core productive sectors from manufacturing to mining,” said Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel.
Some high-risk businesses such as hotels, lodges, hair salons and sit-down facilities at restaurants will remain closed.
The government has permitted sale of alcohol for home consumption from June.
Limited domestic air travel has also been permitted, a government statement said, adding that further details would follow.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced on Sunday that the country would ease restrictions to level three of its five-level lockdown plan from June.
“In opening our economy, we must maintain a firm eye on our goal of flattening the curve and minimising the rates of infections and deaths,” said Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
The mining industry, which has recorded 320 cases of coronavirus so far, is among the industries that will return to full capacity.
Mines across South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of platinum and chrome and a leading producer of gold and diamonds, were forced to shut temporarily when the lockdown began.
Open-cast mines have been allowed to work at full capacity since May 1, while deep-level mines — where social distancing is more difficult to achieve — were restricted to 50%.
Neighbouring Namibia, which has so far recorded no coronavirus deaths, said yesterday it would within days further ease restrictions on social and economic activities.
Most of the desert nation in southwest Africa, which has received international praise after recording only 22 confirmed infections with 14 recoveries, will ease restrictions to level three of its four-level lockdown system from June 2.
However, the harbour town of Walvis Bay will revert to level one, the most restrictive, for seven days after two residents tested positive.
The government has stepped up tracing of people who came into contact with those two.
President Hage Geingob urged public vigilance despite the easing of restrictions which will allow schools to resume face-to-face classes and restaurants to receive sit-down customers.
Non-contact sports and gatherings of up to 50 people at weddings, funerals and other events will be allowed.
But clubs, casinos and gambling houses will remain closed as they are considered high-risk areas while truck drivers arriving in Namibia will be screened, tested on arrival and quarantined for no less than 14 days.
In Addis Ababa, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that cases of community transmission of the new coronavirus are growing in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, and a new strategy for testing is needed to prevent this.
Community transmission refers to cases where patients had no travel history or known contact with infected people — worrying for health workers because it means the virus is moving undetected through the population.
“We are beginning to see sustained community transmission within Ethiopia and many other countries across Africa. That means we need to increase our public health measures like distancing, wearing of masks, washing of hands,” John Nkengasong told journalists.
He said countries should modify the way they test their population — instead of focusing on testing people arriving at airports, governments should switch to surveillance testing of those with flu-like symptoms.
Initially the virus multiplied more slowly in Africa than in Asia or Europe, but all 55 nations on the continent have now reported a total of 119,982 confirmed cases of the infection and 3,599 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
So far Ethiopia has recorded 831 confirmed cases and six deaths, but in the last week it has seen an increase in community transmission.
Nkengasong said almost 2mn tests had been carried out across the continent and the goal is to carry out 12mn tests.
AFP adds: Senegal will continue treating Covid-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine, a senior health official said late on Wednesday, despite a recent study indicating that the anti-malarial drug is ineffective and potentially harmful.
Authorities in the West African state opted to provide consenting patients with the drug early on during its coronavirus outbreak, citing promising clinical results.
Chloroquine and its derivative hydroxychloroquine have been used for decades against malaria and are considered cheap and safe when used correctly.
US President Donald Trump promoted its use and stunned his own administration earlier this month by revealing he was taking it as a preventive measure against the virus.
But even as countries around the world rushed to use the anti-malarials to fight Covid-19, experts urged caution and warned that the drugs can have potentially serious side effects.
A study of nearly 100,000 Covid-19 patients, released last week, appeared to confirm some of those concerns.
Published in the medical journal The Lancet, the study found that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine do not benefit hospitalised patients — and even increase the risk of death and heart arrhythmia.
It recommended against using either drug outside of clinical trials.
Abdoulaye Bousso, who heads Senegal’s Centre for Health Emergency Operations, told AFP on Wednesday that the country’s hydroxychloroquine treatment programme would nonetheless continue, without offering further details.
The infectious-diseases doctor who is spearheading Senegal’s treatment of Covid-19 patients, Moussa Seydi, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did the health ministry.
The World Health Organization said on Monday it had temporarily suspended clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for coronavirus following the Lancet study.
But medical authorities worldwide still appear divided on the use and potential harmfulness of the drugs.
Seydi, the Senegalese infectious-diseases doctor, had previously said that hydroxychloroquine is offered only to consenting patients, and after medical staff perform a cardiogram.
Senegal has so far been spared a coronavirus outbreak on a par with Europe and the United States.
Authorities have recorded 3,235 cases to date, with 38 fatalities.
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