South Africa has lifted a midnight-to-4 a.m. curfew on people's movement, effective immediately, saying the country has passed the peak of its fourth COVID-19 wave driven by the omicron variant, a government statement said Thursday.
However, wearing a face mask in public places remains mandatory. Failure to wear a mask in South Africa when required is a criminal offense.
The country made the curfew and other changes based on the trajectory of the pandemic, levels of vaccination in the country and available capacity in the health sector, according to a press release issued by Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the presidency.
South Africa is at the lowest of its five-stage COVID-19 alert levels.
"All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level," a statement from the special cabinet meeting held earlier Thursday said.
Data from the Department of Health showed a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending December 25 compared with the number of cases found in the previous week, at 127,753, the government said.
South Africa, with close to 3.5 million infections and 91,000 deaths, has been the worst-hit country in Africa during the pandemic on both counts.
Besides lifting the restrictions on public movement, the government also ruled that alcohol shops with licenses to operate after 11 p.m. local time may revert to full license conditions, a welcome boon for traders and businesses hard hit by the pandemic and looking to recover during the festive season.
"While the omicron variant is highly transmissible, there have been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves," the statement said.