S Africa eases curbs as US, Dutch cautious

Dutch PM Mark Rutte says the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 is rising.
Dutch PM Mark Rutte says the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 is rising.

South Africa's president says the government has lifted its ban on alcohol sales and relaxed other coronavirus restrictions while Dutch and US authorities remain cautious on travel curbs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address on Sunday night that a recent spike in coronavirus cases has passed its peak and the daily number of new confirmed cases dropped 20 per cent last week.

The government is allowing retail alcohol sales to resume from Monday through Thursda while bars and restaurants also will be permitted to sell alcoholic beverages.

Schools have fully reopened, and social and religious gatherings are again allowed for a maximum of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

A night-time curfew has been reduced to between 10pm and 4am.

South Africa, which has a population of 60 million, has administered more than 6.3 million vaccine doses.

The rate of inoculations needs to increase for the country to reach its target of having 67 per cent of the population fully vaccinated by February.

The United States will keep its existing COVID-19 travel restrictions on international travel in place for now due to concerns about the surging infection rate because of the delta variant, according to a White House official.

US President Joe Biden earlier this month said that his administration was "in the process" of considering how soon the US could lift the ban on European travel bound for the US after the issue was raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the White House.

The official, who was not authorised to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said while the administration understands the importance of international travel, cases are rising in the US - particularly among those who are unvaccinated and will likely continue to increase in the weeks ahead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people in the US against travel to the United Kingdom last week given a surge in cases there.

Most of continental Europe has relaxed restrictions on US citizens who are fully vaccinated, although the UK still requires quarantines for most visitors arriving from the US.

Airlines say, however, that the lack of two-way travel is limiting the number of flights they can offer and seats they can sell.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government is ruling out multiple-day festivals in the northern hemisphere summer and is tightening rules for people returning from holidays in hopes of preventing another spike in infections.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the new measures on Monday.

Rutte said that even though confirmed cases are declining after hitting more than 10,000 per day this month, "the situation remains tense because we still see numbers rising in hospitals".

Rutte says that banning multiple-day festivals until at least September 1 was done in part because of logistical difficulties in regularly testing all attendees.

He says the move also gives clarity to festival organisers.

The government also is tightening rules for returning holiday makers.

All people over 12 years old will have to provide proof of a negative virus test, that they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that mobile teams will carry out checks at the borders and travellers will be fined if they return without a negative test or proof of full vaccination or recovery.

Just under 60 per cent of Dutch adults are fully vaccinated and 83.5 per cent have had an initial vaccine dose.

Australian Associated Press