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South Africa eases lockdown despite safety fears of health workers

Runners and dog walkers embraced the new freedoms while some bought clothes for the impending winter.

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Cyclists exercise against a backdrop of Table Mountain in Cape Town (Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)

Cyclists exercise against a backdrop of Table Mountain in Cape Town (Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)

Cyclists exercise against a backdrop of Table Mountain in Cape Town (Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)

South Africa began easing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with runners and dog-walkers returning eagerly to the streets but not all wearing the face masks that are now mandatory in the country with Africa’s most Covid-19 cases.

In Johannesburg, Cape Town and elsewhere, people took a breath of autumn air and some headed to the shopping centres to buy warm clothes for winter, which brings a new challenge in combating the virus: flu season.

South Africa has more than 5,600 cases of coronavirus.

Concern among health workers remains high.

On Friday, health workers, unions and civil society members protested outside one of the country’s best-known hospitals, Chris Hani Baragwanath in Soweto, demanding personal protective equipment.

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Animal carers, Clement Chauke, left, and Vhutshilo Mulaudzi, right, feed an elephant at the Johannesburg Zoo (Shiraaz Mohamed/AP)

Animal carers, Clement Chauke, left, and Vhutshilo Mulaudzi, right, feed an elephant at the Johannesburg Zoo (Shiraaz Mohamed/AP)

AP/PA Images

Animal carers, Clement Chauke, left, and Vhutshilo Mulaudzi, right, feed an elephant at the Johannesburg Zoo (Shiraaz Mohamed/AP)

As the country eases down one notch to Level Four restrictions, many businesses can resume limited operations. Many mines, factories and agricultural businesses can resume work in phases, starting with only a third of employees.

Restaurants can reopen for deliveries only.

People are now permitted to leave their homes for exercise between 6am and 9am.

A night curfew is in place from 8pm until 5am.

Public transport, including buses, can operate with restricted numbers of passengers.

But the ban on domestic and international travel remains.

Even with the easing, sales of alcohol and cigarettes remain banned, which some have criticised as puritanical.

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People exercise on the promenade in Cape Town (NArdus Englebrecht/AP)

People exercise on the promenade in Cape Town (NArdus Englebrecht/AP)

AP/PA Images

People exercise on the promenade in Cape Town (NArdus Englebrecht/AP)

But health officials warn that smoking might exacerbate respiratory problems experienced with Covid-19.

The ban on alcohol sales has reduced brawls and traffic accidents, according to police.

Friday is Workers’ Day and ordinarily South Africa marks it with rallies by trade unions and political parties, but these are not possible this year.

But some workers found the return of business enough reason to celebrate.

“We were badly affected by the lockdown but fortunately we are open now. We had to listen to the leaders because this is a very difficult time,” said Cameron Elihaz, who owns a mobile phone repair and accessories shop in Johannesburg.

According to officials, schools should reopen in phases starting June 1 with the first batch being Grade Seven and Grade 12 pupils, the oldest classes in primary and secondary schools, respectively.

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Health workers, unions and civil society hold a picket outside Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto (Themba Hadebe/AP)

Health workers, unions and civil society hold a picket outside Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto (Themba Hadebe/AP)

AP/PA Images

Health workers, unions and civil society hold a picket outside Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto (Themba Hadebe/AP)

But teachers’ unions have protested, saying schools should not reopen until safe conditions can be assured.

There is no date for when higher education institutions will open, with the sector increasingly looking towards online learning.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has emphasised that his government is trying to balance the need to curb the spread of the virus with pressure to minimise economic hardships in one of the world’s most unequal countries.

Mr Ramaphosa earlier announced a 26 billion dollar socio-economic relief package as millions of informal workers have suffered.

Unemployment is expected to soar above the 29% that existed before the virus arrived.

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A woman walks her dogs in Cape Town (Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)

A woman walks her dogs in Cape Town (Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)

AP/PA Images

A woman walks her dogs in Cape Town (Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)

South Africa has conducted more than 200,000 coronavirus tests.

Officials say they will watch for areas of high concentrations of cases where they will implement targeted isolation measures.

PA