President Cyril Ramaphosa updates SA on developments in the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa updates SA on developments in the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: GCIS

As SA emerges from its deadly third wave of coronavirus infections, President Cyril Ramaphosa has eased key restrictions on alcohol sales and the size of gatherings, offering a lifeline to businesses and making it easier to register voters ahead of local government elections in November.

Restrictions have been moved from level 3 to level 2.

Urging people to get vaccinated as soon as possible to safeguard their own health and enable further opening of the economy, Ramaphosa said the government would provide an update on its plans for vaccine passports in two weeks’ time.

"Vaccines are safe, effective and free. [They] are the most potent weapon we have to fight this pandemic. The sooner we are all vaccinated, the sooner we can open up sports venues to spectators … welcome tourists to our beautiful country … [and] return our economy to full operation and create the jobs our country needs," he said.

The limit for indoor gatherings has been increased from 50 people to 250 and the outdoor limit from 100 to 500 people.

Restaurants and bars need to close at 10pm, an hour later than the previous restriction of 9pm.

Small venues that cannot safely accommodate 250 people may not operate at more than 50% of capacity and funerals remain restricted to 50 people.

Ramaphosa said: "In exactly 50 days’ time, South Africans will go to the polls in the local government elections. It is vital that as we undertake this great democratic exercise, we do everything within our means to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 infections."

The restrictions have been straining businesses, such as restaurants, airlines and entertainment venues, threatening their survival and jobs as SA battles with the world’s highest unemployment rate.

Comair, which owns Kulula airline and is in business rescue, last week announced it was forced to sell its slow airport lounge as a result of liquidity challenges. This came as flights were stopped for almost two months in response to lockdown restrictions.

Cinema chain Ster-Kinekor, which is also in business rescue, said to creditors the 50-person per show restriction had slowed its return to profitability.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country will be moved from adjusted level 3 to adjusted level 2 on September 13 2021.

The 10pm closure for restaurants and the prohibition of alcohol sales from retail outlets on weekends may still be too severe for some businesses to survive.

The alcohol industry last week said that restrictions allowing the sale of liquor between Monday and Thursday only were placing a severe strain on independent bottle stores, which were losing at least 50% of revenue.

The Consumer Goods Council of SA said in response to the continued weekend sales ban that "there is no valid reason not to allow trading to take place for seven days under licence conditions".

The restaurant industry had been calling for an end to all restrictions, saying early curfews and closures keep many guests from coming out for dinner.

Wendy Alberts, CEO of the Restaurant Association of SA (Rasa), last week said a lack of government relief meant staff were unemployed: "Our restaurants are dying. We simply cannot continue to survive without our full dinner service offering."

Ramaphosa urged the nation to get vaccinated as soon as possible. "The day will soon come when we can gather again without restrictions, fill stadiums and music venues, travel and move about freely without the fear of becoming ill or losing our loved ones. How soon that day arrives depends on one thing: how many of us get vaccinated and how quickly," he said.

SA’s vaccination drive got off to a slow start in February, hobbled by bureaucratic delays, unexpected production problems and limited supplies. But the government now has ample stock, and instead of confronting long queues at vaccination sites is battling to generate demand.

SA leads the African continent in vaccinations and had by Sunday evening administered more than 14.6-million doses to people aged 18 or older.

Only 7.19-million people, or 18% of the adult population, are fully immunised with either Pfizer’s double-shot jab or Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, far from its goal of reaching 70% of the adult population.

Ramaphosa announced that after opening applications for the R350 special social relief of distress grant in August, it received nearly 13-million applications, with 8.3-million approved and 3.7-million declined as it appeared applicants had other sources of income. 

kahnt@businesslive.co.za
childk@businesslive.co.za

Business Leadership SA has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa's decision to ease lockdown restrictions. Alishia Seckam spoke to Business Leadership SA CEO Busi Mavuso for more detail.

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