South Africa, where the omicron variant was detected in November, announced that the country’s latest coronavirus wave had likely passed its peak without a significant increase in deaths and that restrictions would be eased.
The highly contagious omicron variant, which contains a number of mutations, has fuelled an end-of-year global pandemic resurgence. But mounting evidence, including in South Africa, has given rise to hopes it may be less severe than other strains.
“All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave,” the South African presidency said in a statement that announced the end of the nightly curfew.
The government cancelled its 21-month-long curfew ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations.
This also means all restrictions on the times alcohol can be sold and consumed are over and the new regulations allow indoor gatherings of up to 1,000 people.
This is the first time since March 27, 2020, South Africans are to travel by road overnight or attend all night parties.
In that first lockdown even walking dogs in daylight in the suburbs was prohibited, and all sales of alcohol and cigarettes were banned.
Excess deaths monitored by the South African Medical Research Council estimate that more than 250,000 have died from the virus.
Mondli Gungubele, minister in the presidency, said experts say the omicron wave had reached its peak.
“Clinical manifestation has not caused any alarm in hospitals, so conditions allow that we lift the curfew,” he said.
“The economy is struggling and we wish to use every opportunity to open up the economy.” He said he hoped the curfew would not have to be imposed again.
Other regulations such as mask wearing remain in place and limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, including numbers attending funerals.
Infections dropped by almost 30 percent last week compared to the preceding seven days, according to the presidency, while hospital admissions also declined in eight of the nine provinces.
During the spike, only a marginal increase in Covid-19 deaths was noted, it added.