South African authorities on Wednesday unexpectedly lifted Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings just as more than 600 people died of the virus in one day.
South Africa is in the throes of the third wave, driven by the more deadly Delta variant.
The country is also in the grip of unrest. At least 72 people have died in looting incidents in different parts of Gauteng and KwaZuluMembersprovinces.
More than one thousand people have been arrested for public violence and looting.
Hundreds of looters have brazenly ignored the Covid-19 restrictions that prevent gatherings and impose a curfew from 10pm to 4am.
In an about-turn, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma issued amendments to the gazetted regulations under adjusted level four of the lockdown.
She said the lifting of the restrictions on gatherings will assist officials in engaging directly with communities affected by the current acts of criminality unfolding in some parts of the country.
The crimes include looting, damage to property and infrastructure.
“The amendment will only apply to gatherings and community engagements, hosted by members of Parliament, Members of Provincial Legislatures, Councillors, leaders of political parties, religious leaders, and traditional leaders,” said the minister.
Dr. Dlamini Zuma said the lifting of the restrictions would also enable officials to deal with emergency matters that impact the management, treatment, and prevention of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The situation of riots and looting is disrupting the much-needed delivery of services, including delays in treatment of patients, it is also delaying our vaccination rollout programme, and threatening medical and food security.
“We must work together to build communities that are conflict free and promote socio-economic development within our communities,” said the minister.
“As South Africans, we all have a responsibility to continue working together to build our country to meet its full potential.
“As we engage communities, we should all be guided by the regulations for Alert Level 4 as well as the amended regulations issued in terms of Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act.”
Dr. Dlamini Zuma said the gatherings are permitted subject to strict adherence to all health protocols and social distancing protocols.
She said such gatherings are limited to 50 people.
“If the relevant space is too small to hold the prescribed number of persons observing a distance of at least 1.5 metres from each other, then not more than 50% of the capacity of the venue may be used,” explained the minister.
She said the curfew still remains in place from 9pm until 4am.