S Africa eases virus lockdown

The number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa continued to rise on Monday as the country moved to a lower level of lockdown restrictions, reports Xinhua. 

As of Monday, the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa was 34,357, an increase of 1,674 from Sunday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in his daily update. 

Regrettably the country reported 22 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 705, the minister said. 

The Western Cape province remains the country's epicenter of the pandemic with 22,567 confirmed cases and 525 deaths. 

"We wish to express our condolences to the families and loved ones of the departed and thank the health care workers who treated these patients," Mkhize said. 

The total national recoveries were 16,808, he said. Also on Monday, the country eased the national lockdown from level four to level three, allowing eight million people to return to work as many economic and social activities were restarting. 

"After 65 days of a nationwide lockdown, the country is today starting a new phase in its fight against the coronavirus," President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his weekly address to the nation. He said the country is taking a gradual approach, guided by the advice of scientists and led by the realities on the ground and consultations with stakeholders. 

Although the reopening of economic activities were widely welcomed, concern was growing among teachers, parents and role players in the education sector about the state of readiness for the reopening of schools, originally scheduled for June 1. 

As a result, the government postponed the reopening of schools to June 8. 

Addressing the reopening of schools, Ramaphosa said "the safety of our youngest citizens from a health and physical perspective is not negotiable" and "is our foremost priority." 

"As we prepare for the gradual reopening of our schools and places of higher learning, education authorities have been hard at work putting the necessary health and safety measures in place," Ramaphosa said. 

All schools have been provided with the standard operating procedures which cover issues like training and orientation of screeners, timetable realignment and configuring classrooms to meet social distancing requirements, according to Ramaphosa. 

"Ahough we may feel anxious and fearful as our sons and daughters leave our care, we must draw courage from the fact that every effort is being made to protect them," he said.