JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is ending its national “state of disaster” over the coronavirus pandemic, which has been in effect for 750 days and allowed the government to impose some of the broadest public health restrictions seen anywhere.
The regulations were falling away at midnight local time on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address.
“The end of the national state of disaster is a firm statement of our determination to live our lives and rebuild our country, even as this virus remains in our midst,” Mr. Ramaphosa said.
South Africa has recorded more coronavirus cases than any other nation in Africa — 3.7 million since the start of the pandemic — and more than 100,000 virus-related deaths. The country, with a more developed economy than most in Africa, has been an outlier in its region, where most countries have recorded relatively low rates of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
After four major waves of coronavirus infections, including some of the earliest known cases of the Omicron variant, the authorities in South Africa are hopeful that rising vaccination rates in the country will ease the burden on its health care system. Just over one-third of South Africa’s population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data — a high rate for Africa, though still well below that of many developed nations.
In a precursor to Monday’s announcement, Mr. Ramaphosa described a “new era” in South Africa’s response to Covid-19 in a speech last month, when he cited data showing that 60 percent of South Africans had acquired some level of immunity through vaccination, getting over an infection, or both.
South Africa’s government announced a state of disaster — akin to what many other countries call a state of emergency — on March 15, 2020, soon after the first known case of Covid was reported in the country. Early on, the restrictions included limits on the types of clothing and shoes — like sandals — that people could buy, a regulation intended to keep them from leaving their homes. The restrictions also included bans on the purchase of alcohol and cigarettes; violators could be arrested and fined.
Those restrictions were gradually eased, but limits on large gatherings remained, and masks were required throughout the state of disaster. Those and other remaining restrictions will now be phased out over the next 30 days. Indoor and outdoor venues that require patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative test no more than 72 hours old will be allowed to admit up to 50 percent of capacity.
Travelers entering South Africa will still be required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test, and if they test positive while visiting South Africa, they will still be required to isolate for 10 days.
New guidelines for visitors and those living in South Africa are expected from the health ministry in May.
South African officials will continue to pay out a monthly social relief grant, introduced in 2020 to ease the economic effects of the pandemic. Two million jobs were lost over the last two years, according to government statistics.
The lifting of restrictions now will help the economy recover and “get our country back on track,” Mr. Ramaphosa said.