A special Cabinet meeting has approved several changes to the Adjusted Alert Level 1 COVID-19 regulations.
This follows meetings of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and the President's Coordinating Council (PCC), which received updates on the management of the current fourth wave of COVID-19 in South Africa, which is mainly driven by the Omicron variant.
In a statement on Thursday, Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele said all indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level.
"The information gathered through the system used by the Department of Health has reported a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending 25 December 2021 (89,781), compared to the number of new cases detected in the previous week (127,753).
"Cases declined in all provinces except the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, which recorded increases of 14% and 18%, respectively. There has been a decline in hospital admissions in all provinces except the Western Cape," the Minister said.
While the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there has been lower rates of hospitalisation than in previous waves.
"This means that the country has a spare capacity for admission of patients even for routine health services. There is a marginal increase in the number of deaths in all the provinces," Gungubele said.
Based on the trajectory of the pandemic, the levels of vaccination in the country and the available capacity within the health sector, Cabinet has decided to make the following changes to Adjusted Alert Level 1 with immediate effect:
The curfew will be lifted. There will therefore be no restrictions on the hours of movement of people.
Gatherings are restricted to no more than 1 000 people indoors and no more than 2 000 people outdoors. 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. All other restrictions remain in place.
With the risk of increase in infections still high given the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, Government has called on all organisers of these gatherings to ensure that all health protocols are observed at all times and that all attendees are encouraged to be vaccinated.
In addition, alcohol establishments that have licences to operate beyond 11pm will revert back to full licence conditions.
"The NCCC will continue to closely monitor the situation and will make further adjustments as necessary, particularly if pressure on health facilities increases.
"The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence," the Minister said.
South Africans are urged to continue observing basic health protocols to prevent the transmission of the virus.
"Vaccination remains the best defence against severe illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. All people in South Africa who have not yet done so are encouraged to vaccinated as soon as possible. This includes people who are eligible for booster shots.
"Parents are reminded to support their children aged 12 years and older to use this opportunity to vaccinate before schools open. This will avoid learners losing school time as a result of testing positive or as a result of contact with people infected with COVID-19," the Minister said.
Government has commended all South Africans who have observed the health regulations and protocols over the festive season.
"Government urges everyone to continue to act cautiously and responsibly over the New Year and for the remainder of the holiday season," the Minister said.