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Covid-19: South Africa to ease lockdown restrictions

By Wendy Amarteifio
Covid-19: South Africa to ease lockdown restrictions
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South Africa has announced an easing of some lockdown restrictions beginning next month, citing economic concerns.

But President Cyril Ramaphosa warned that most people should remain at home, public gatherings remain banned, and the country's borders will stay closed.

From 1 May, some businesses will be allowed to reopen, and a third of their employees can return to work.

Tough rules had even seen a ban on cigarette sales but that will be lifted. Alcohol sales remain banned.

Some schools will also reopen but with strict limits likely on class sizes.

The country has some of the most stringent coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the world, but security forces have struggled to enforce them.

Most people are still being urged to stay at home.

President Ramaphosa said a month-long lockdown had been working, and had slowed the pandemic's progress. But "people need to eat", and to "earn a living", he said.

Under the new plans, South Africa's alert level will drop from "level 5" to "level 4":
- Cigarette sales will be permitted
- Exercise is to be allowed under strict guidelines
- Public transport continues but passengers should wear masks
- Shops and supermarkets will be allowed to sell more goods
-Some businesses can reopen under strict conditions
- Mines will be opened at reduced capacity
-All gatherings, except funerals and for work, are still banned.
-Travel between South Africa's provinces is still prohibited, and international flights are cancelled except for those repatriating citizens.
-Social distancing will be enforced.

READ ALSO:Coronavirus: Congress passes $484bn economic relief bill

The BBC's Andrew Harding in Johannesburg says it is a precarious balancing act for South Africa, as for so many countries.
Since 27 March only essential service providers, such as health workers, financial services providers, journalists and retail workers, are allowed to continue going to work.

Businesses that provide essential services have been applying for a special permit from the government that allows their members of staff to go outside.

Mr Ramaphosa has warned of the danger of a new surge of infections. There's already concern about new spikes in several cities, and warnings that some hospitals are nowhere near ready.

But the pressure to reopen the economy - at least partially, and cautiously - is huge, our correspondent says.

South Africa's government has also announced new welfare grants to help South Africa's poorest families.

Millions of people have lost their incomes, and aid organisations warn of growing signs of desperation.