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South Africa eases most COVID restrictions, citing high population immunity

Thousands of New Year's day revelers gather on the South Beach in Durban after the government lifted a COVID-19 curfew.
Rajesh Jantilal
AFP via Getty Images
Thousands of New Year's day revelers gather on the South Beach in Durban after the government lifted a COVID-19 curfew.

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South Africa has taken a huge step toward getting back to normal.

Overnight, the government announced sweeping changes to many of the remaining COVID-19 regulations. From now on, anyone without symptoms can continue to live life as normal. Anyone who comes into contact with a COVID-positive person and has no symptoms can also continue as normal. No testing. No isolation.

And if you do have symptoms, the isolation has been cut down to seven days from 10. Beginning Tuesday, schools will open as they did before the pandemic: They will no longer operate on an A/B schedule, and there is no longer a social distancing requirement. All kids will show up to school at the same time.

The only noticeable vestige of COVID-19 regulations here in South Africa are masks, which are still required in public spaces and on public transport.

In a statement, the government said it was taking these steps because the proportion of people with immunity to COVID-19 has "risen substantially, exceeding 60-80% in several sero-surveys." That means up to 80% of South Africans are either vaccinated or have recovered from a COVID-19 infection, so their blood samples show COVID-19 antibodies.

These are all concrete signs that perhaps South Africa has become the largest and most important African country to reach what NPR's Nurith Aizenman called COVID's holy grail: "the endemic stage of the pandemic, in which the coronavirus becomes a more predictable seasonal bug like the flu or common cold."

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.