South African restaurants, salons to reopen amid virus surge

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FILE PHOTO: Chairs are placed on top of tables while staff hold a meeting, after Sakhumzi restaurant closed for over a month as South Africa starts to relax some aspects of a stringent nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Soweto May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Chairs are placed on top of tables while staff hold a meeting, after Sakhumzi restaurant closed for over a month as South Africa starts to relax some aspects of a stringent nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Soweto May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

South Africa will ease lockdown rules for a third time since imposing them in March and allow a range of businesses including eat-in restaurants, casinos and beauty salons to reopen despite a steep increase in coronavirus infections.

The businesses affected employed more than 500,000 people prior to the lockdown and there was a limit as to how long they could be forced to remain shuttered, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday in a televised address. While more activity in more sectors will now be allowed to resume, the country remains on virus alert level 3 that’s been in place since the start of the month.

“We are still near the beginning of this epidemic and it will remain with us for many more months, possibly years,” Ramaphosa said. “The task of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is like running a marathon race and not a sprint, and we have therefore had to shape our response according to that reality.”

South Africa’s first coronavirus case was reported on March 5 and the country went into lockdown 22 days later, with only grocers, pharmacies and suppliers of essential services allowed to keep operating. The rules were eased with a move to alert level 4 at the start of May and again at the beginning of this month in a bid to restart the economy and counter soaring job losses and poverty.

Under the new rules, hotels, lodges and guest houses will also be allowed to reopen to tourists on a yet-to-be-announced date, but the concession doesn’t extend to home-sharing services, such as Airbnb. Theaters, cinemas, conference centers and hair salons will also be able to resume operations. All businesses will have to adhere to strict health protocols.

“The cautious opening up of sectors such as restaurants and hairdressers will help stimulate employment as those industries employ a lot of people, even though they are mainly small companies,” Melanie Verwoerd, an independent political analyst and former ruling party lawmaker, said by phone from Cape Town.

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