South African president says travel to all countries will be allowed

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FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment facilities in Johannesburg
FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment facilities in Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will open up travel to all countries in an effort to boost the tourism and hospitality sectors, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday, despite having the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the continent.

Africa's most advanced economy, which has recorded more than 740,000 COVID-19 cases and over 20,000 deaths, has seen infections rise since it eased lockdown restrictions in September to their lowest levels.

Ramaphosa, in a televised national address, said normal trading hours of alcohol would be restored too, after sales were restricted on weekends in an effort to reduce pressure on hospitals due to alcohol-related accidents.

"We are also opening up international travel to all countries subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative COVID-19 certificate," he said.

"By using rapid tests and strict monitoring we intend to limit the spread of the infection through importation," he added. "We expect that these measures will greatly assist businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors."

The president did not give further details, or a specific date for the reopening. A presidency spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

South Africa opened its borders to some international travellers at the beginning of October after a six-month ban, but restricted entry from high-risk countries, with the latest list including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Brazil and India.

The country depends heavily on tourism, which prior to the pandemic contributed nearly 9% of its gross domestic product and employed over 4% of the workforce.

The economy was already in recession before the pandemic struck, and one of the world's strictest lockdowns has exacerbated its woes with millions of its citizens losing their jobs or being pushed deeper into poverty.

Ramaphosa, however, warned of a potential resurgence in infections, saying the number of new cases in the Eastern Cape province was 50% higher than the week before, with higher infection rates also seen in the Northern Cape and Western Cape regions.

"We have also seen in other countries how a resurgence can dash hopes for a swift economic recovery," he said.

(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg and Wendell Roelf; Editing by Chris Reese and Pravin Char)