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South Africa welcomes Covid-19 vaccines, eases restrictions

By Betty Njeru and Reuters | February 2nd 2021
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits coronavirus disease treatment facilities. [Reuters]

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday hailed the arrival of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine as a chance to “turn the tide” on a disease that has devastated the country.

Once testing of the batches is completed, the first shots will be given to health workers, who have been stretched during a second wave of infections and have been critical of the government for not securing supplies sooner.

Ramaphosa and other top officials were at the OR Tambo international airport to receive the one million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII).

“The arrival of these vaccines contains the promise that we can turn the tide on this disease that has caused so much devastation and hardship in our country and across the world,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.

Ramaphosa maintained that nobody will be given this vaccine against their will, nor will it be administered in secret.

“Nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated,” he said in a televised address on Monday.

The vaccine shots will be checked over roughly 10 to 14 days before inoculations can begin.

Another 500,000 doses will be sent later this month, but more will be needed to cover South Africa’s 1.25 million health workers, as the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is administered in two doses.

Ramaphosa said COVAX would release 2 million doses by March, while shots developed by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson doses will start to be delivered in the second quarter.

South Africa has recorded the most COVID-19 infections and deaths in Africa, at more than 1.4 million cases and over 44,000 deaths to date.

Alcohol Ban Lifted

South Africa has also eased Covid-19 restrictions and lifted the ban on sale of alcohol, following a decrease in Covid-19 infections.

President Ramaphosa announced that the sale of alcohol by licensed premises for off-site consumption will be permitted from Mondays to Thursdays, from 10am to 6pm.

Similarly, “duty-free shops, registered wineries, wine farms, micro-breweries and micro-distilleries will be able to sell alcohol for off-site consumption during their normal licensed operating hours.”

Other eased protocols include:

Curfew hours are now from 11pm-4am

Establishments to close by 10pm.

Public places such as beaches, dams, rivers, parks and public swimming pools will be reopened subject to health protocols.

Gatherings may not exceed 50 people for indoor venues and 100 persons for outdoor venues.  “Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used,” he said.

Faith-based gatherings will be permitted, subject to health protocols.

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