South Africa will open its borders from next month for international travel as the country moves to the lowest level of its five-step coronavirus lockdown from midnight of September 20.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday announced a slew of reductions in restrictions – an attempt to revive the economy that has been severely hit by the six-month lockdown.

“Our economy and our society have suffered great devastation. We have endured a fierce and destructive storm. But, by standing together, by remaining resolute, we have withstood it,” Ramaphosa said.

“Two months ago, at the height of the storm, we were recording around 12,000 new cases a day. Now, we are on average recording less than 2,000 cases a day. We now have a recovery rate of 89 per cent,” the president said.

However, he urged the citizens to continue to wear masks and maintain social-distancing to ensure the country did not move to a new wave of infections.

“Now is the time to return our country, its people and our economy to a situation that is more normal, that more resembles the lives that we were living six months ago. It is time to move to what will become our new normal for as long as the coronavirus is with us,” Ramaphosa said.

He said the reductions in restrictions were possible because infections were relatively low.

“We will be allowing travel into and out of South Africa for business, leisure and other travel with effect from October 1, 2020. This is subject to various containment and mitigation measures,” Ramaphosa said.

Travel may be restricted to and from certain countries that have high infection rates. A list of countries will be published based on the latest scientific data. Tourists are to be welcomed again, a major source of income for South Africans.

“The tourism sector is one of our greatest economic drivers. We are ready to open our doors again to the world, and invite travelers to enjoy our mountains, our beaches, our vibrant cities and our wildlife game parks in safety and confidence,” he said.

But they will only be allowed to fly in at three international airports in South Africa — Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town – or enter through the land border posts which were already operational during the lockdown.

Travelers will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result not older than 72 hours from time of departure or face a mandatory quarantine at their own cost.

Curfew hours have been amended to start at midnight and end at 4 am.

The easing of restrictions will now allow for social, religious, political and other gatherings to 50 per cent of the venue capacity, up to a maximum of 250 people for indoor gatherings and 500 people for outdoor gatherings. Previously all gathering were restricted to a maximum of 50 people.

Attendance at funerals will be increased from a maximum of 50 to people 100, due to the higher risk of viral transmission at funerals, while night vigils are still prohibited.

Gyms, cinemas and similar public facilities may admit more than the previous maximum of 50 people, subject to a new maximum of 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity, but existing restrictions on sporting events remain in place. The sale of alcohol, which was prohibited from Thursday to Sunday, will now be allowed on all weekdays.

All government employees will be asked to return to their posts without delay to ensure that all services are resumed.

“We have a mammoth task ahead of us. It will take the combined effort of each and every South African to restore our nation to prosperity and development. We cannot afford a resurgence of infections in our country,” Ramaphosa said.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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