South Africa lifts four-hour overnight curfew, saying COVID-19 fourth wave has peaked

New infections dropped by 29.7 per cent last week compared to the preceding seven days

South Africa, where the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected last month, said Thursday that many restrictions, including a night-time curfew, would be lifted after the country overcame its latest wave of infections.

Calls for the midnight to 4 a.m. curfew to be lifted had been mounting among operators in the hospitality sector ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, with owners launching an online petition addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“The curfew will be lifted. There will therefore be no restrictions on the hours of movement of people,” the presidency said in a statement.

Alcohol sales will be permitted after 11 p.m. for licensed premises.

“All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” the statement said.

New infections dropped by 29.7 per cent last week compared to the preceding seven days. Hospital admissions have declined in eight of South Africa’s nine provinces.

“While the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there has been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves,” the statement said. “This means that the country has a spare capacity for admission of patients even for routine health services.”

Mask wearing remains compulsory in public spaces and public gatherings are limited to 1,000 people indoors and 2,000 outdoors.

South Africa is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus in Africa, with more than 3.4 million cases recorded and 91,000 deaths.