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South Africa reopens to foreign travelers amid virus creep

Shoppers wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19, enter a shopping Mall in Johannesburg, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. In an address to the nation, Wednesday Nov. 11, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that people must continue wearing masks, as well as taking other precautions in a bid to prevent a second surge of the pandemic as experienced in other parts of the world. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
Shoppers wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19, enter a shopping Mall in Johannesburg, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. In an address to the nation, Wednesday Nov. 11, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that people must continue wearing masks, as well as taking other precautions in a bid to prevent a second surge of the pandemic as experienced in other parts of the world. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JOHANNESBURG – In an effort to revive its tourism industry, South Africa has opened up international travel to visitors from all countries, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.

South Africa will now admit foreign visitors providing they produce negative COVID-19 test results, Ramaphosa said in a broadcast address Wednesday night.

This step, making South Africa one of the world's countries most open to international travel, comes as cases of the disease are slowly increasing in the country. Ramaphosa said his government will closely monitor any signs that international visitors increase transmission rates.

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

After closing its borders as part of one of the world's strictest lockdowns imposed at the end of March, South Africa has gradually reopened, resuming international flights on Oct. 1 but not admitting travelers from countries with high infection levels. Now that restriction has been removed, Ramaphosa said.

With a cumulative total of more than 740,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including just over 20,000 deaths, South Africa has nearly 40% of Africa's total number of more than 1.9 million reported cases, including 46,272 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. South Africa, with a population of 60 million people, has reported a disproportionately high level of cases for the continent of 1.3 billion in 54 countries.

At its first peak of COVID-19 in late July, most of South Africa's hospitals succeeded in coping with patients. Hospitalizations and deaths dropped in August and September but in recent weeks, cases have begun to climb.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in South Africa has risen over the past two weeks from 2.74 new cases per 100,000 people on Oct. 28 to 2.85 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 11. The 7-day rolling average of daily deaths in South Africa has risen over the past two weeks from 0.09 deaths per 100,000 people on Oct. 28 to 0.10 deaths per 100,000 people on Nov. 11.