President Cyril Ramaphosa insisted no-one would be forced to be vaccinated in a speech to the nation on Monday. He also eased lockdown restrictions such as the sale of alcohol, the right to hold religious gatherings of no more than 50 people indoors, and the reopening of public spaces such as beaches and parks. Masks and social distancing remain in force.

The relaxation of restrictions follows encouraging news on the spread of the Covid virus, which is now in decline. Parks and public spaces are to be opened after being shut down in early January. The number of Covid cases hit a peak in mid-January 2021 and has been in sharp decline over the last two weeks.

Said Ramaphosa: “Nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated.”

That was the undertaking given by President Cyril Ramaphosa in a Covid-19 update on Monday.

“Nobody will be given this vaccine against their will, nor will the vaccine be administered in secret.

“Any rumours to this effect are both false and dangerous.”

This comes on the same day that the first vaccines arrived in the country. Ramaphosa outlined the phased roll-out of the vaccine, starting with health care workers, and then filtering to the rest of the population until the country reaches “herd immunity” – when 67% or roughly 40 million people are vaccinated.

There was some encouraging news for businesses hit by the recent Alert Level 3 lockdown and the ban on alcohol – which has smashed the income of restaurants and hotels, for the most part.

“With the clear decline in new infections, hospital admissions and deaths, Cabinet has decided to steadily ease a number of restrictions under adjusted Level 3.

The hours of the curfew will now be from 11pm to 4am.

“We urge employers to allow their employees to work from home wherever possible, and not to risk transmission where it is not absolutely necessary to do so,” said Ramaphosa.

The sale of alcohol by licensed premises for off-site consumption will be permitted from Mondays to Thursdays, from 10am to 6pm.

Duty-free shops, registered wineries, wine farms, micro-breweries and micro-distilleries will be able to sell alcohol for off-site consumption during their normal licensed operating hours.

The sale of alcohol by licensed premises for on-site consumption – such as restaurants and taverns – will be permitted throughout the week from 10am to 10pm.