SA’s official exit from its third wave of coronavirus infection is likely to strengthen calls for the government to loosen its lockdown restrictions and further open an economy struggling with the world’s highest unemployment rate.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said on Sunday night that the national seven-day moving average of new daily recorded cases, the test positivity rate and the testing rate were all falling, with sustained decreases reported in all provinces. By Sunday, the seven-day moving average of new daily recorded cases had dropped to just under a 10th of the peak in early July.

“Nationally, we have exited the third wave according to the current definition,” it said in a statement.

The government imposed stringent lockdown level 4 restrictions on June 27 in response to a devastating third surge of Covid-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant that rapidly overwhelmed hospital services in Gauteng. These lockdown rules included a total ban on alcohol sales and an evening curfew that began at 9pm, dealing a further blow to businesses in the hospitality and alcohol sectors already reeling from the government’s response to the pandemic.

Once SA passed the peak of its third wave in early July, the government began to ease lockdown measures, and the country is now on adjusted level 2 restrictions, which include an 11pm curfew, offsite alcohol sales limited to weekdays and a ban on onsite alcohol consumption after 10pm.

Many businesses are still unable to operate at full capacity, and last week, Western Cape premier Alan Winde called for the country to be moved to level1 as soon as possible.

He also called for an end to the state of disaster, saying there was no justification for the continued restrictions on the economy when health-care services had adequate capacity.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit SA harder than any other African country, with more than 2.9-million recorded cases and more than 87,000 registered deaths from Covid-19. Local experts estimate that true mortality numbers are about three times this figure.

SA’s seven-day moving average of new daily recorded cases was 2,045 on Sunday, down from a peak of almost 20,000 on July 8. The test positivity rate stood at 5%, down from more than 30% at the peak of the third wave. Similarly, the daily number of tests had fallen from a peak of more than 75,000 to 19,160, according to the NICD.

The institute monitors the seven-day moving average of new cases, because testing rates and reported case numbers drop sharply over weekends and public holidays.

The NICD reported 967 new cases, and 51 deaths were registered on Sunday.

Most new cases reported on Sunday were from KwaZulu-Natal (28%), followed by the Eastern Cape (17%). The Western Cape accounted for 12% and the Free State 10%. Gauteng, the North West and Northern Cape each accounted for 8%; while Mpumalanga accounted for 7% and Limpopo 1% of the cases.



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