JOHANNESBURG, June 23 (Xinhua) -- South Africa has reached a "turning point" since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020 and decided to lift COVID-19 restrictions in the country, according to South African health minister Joe Phaahla.
"Today is a very historic day as we have reached a turning point since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the world and in the country," Phaahla told a media briefing in Pretoria on Thursday.
He recalled the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government and the devastation with loss of lives caused by the first three waves, as well as disruptions of social and economic life, expressing gratitude toward South Africans for their support and cooperation over the last 2 years and 3 months, and the collective leadership of South Africa across all sectors.
After looking back on the path of combating the pandemic, he said by mid-June the situation had taken a "very positive direction" with decline in daily cases, hospitalization, positivity rate, reproductive number and reported deaths.
South Africa on Wednesday reported 1,028 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 3,989,007. It also reported 57 deaths, including 6 deaths that occurred in the past 24 to 48 hours, bringing the total fatalities to 101,697.
The announcement came after Phaahla signed a note in the Government Gazette last night, lifting the remaining health regulations, including wearing of masks indoors, limitations on gatherings and vaccination proof or PCR negative tests at ports of entry.
However, he cautioned, "the COVID-19 virus is not yet gone."
"It is still in our midst, we are just stronger than before, especially with vaccination and we urge those not yet vaccinated to come forward and those due for boosters to also come forward," he said.
Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu on Thursday welcomed the move, envisaging a boost to tourism growth.
"The return to life as we knew it before COVID-19 will go a long way in boosting the tourism sector's growth as travelers will be able to participate in more activities including attending big events and gatherings that not only contribute to our country's appeal but also to our economy," she said in a statement.