Festive season beach ban for Eastern Cape and Garden Route as Ramaphosa tightens Covid-19 regulations
Beaches on the Garden Route and in the Eastern Cape will be closed from 16 December after President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, 14 December, announced tighter restrictions for both districts and the country as a whole to fight the second wave of coronavirus infections.
South Africans will start the festive season with an 11pm curfew, and even earlier in hotspots, restricted hours on the sale of alcohol and no access to beaches on the Garden Route and in the Eastern Cape after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced tighter regulations to fight a second wave of coronavirus infections in South Africa.
“One of the greatest challenges we need to confront are the huge crowds that flock to beaches and recreational parks on public holidays over the festive season,” Ramaphosa said.
“We have undertaken extensive consultations on this issue so that we can find an approach that reduces the risk of large-scale transmission while limiting the negative impact on businesses in coastal areas.
“We have therefore agreed to adopt a differentiated approach, which takes into account the different circumstances in different areas of the country.
“In the areas with the highest rate of infection, beaches and public parks will be closed for the duration of the festive season from the 16th of December to the 3rd of January. This will apply to all of the Eastern Cape, as well as to the Garden Route District in the Western Cape.
“In KwaZulu-Natal, beaches and public parks will be closed on what are traditionally the busiest days of the season,” he said, explaining that these days are 16 December, Christmas Day and the Day of Goodwill, 31 December and 1 to 3 January.
The beaches and public parks of the Western Cape and Northern Cape – with the exception of the Garden Route – will remain open to the public over the festive season, the president said.
A grave Ramaphosa provided some worrying statistics showing how the second outbreak of the coronavirus was escalating in South Africa.
On 3 December there were 4,400 new cases of the virus in the country. Ten days later South Africa recorded nearly 8,000 new cases.
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country on Monday stood at 866,127.
“These figures are a cause for great concern. There can no longer be any doubt – the country has entered a second wave of coronavirus infections,” Ramaphosa said.
“Given the rate at which new cases have grown over the last two weeks, there is every possibility that if we do not act urgently and if we do not act together, the second wave will be more severe than the first wave.”
He said in the past week the number of new cases had increased from a daily average of around 3,800 to just over 6,600 a day.
“The daily average of Covid-19 deaths has increased by nearly 50% over the same period, from just over 100 deaths a day to just over 150 deaths.”
Ramaphosa echoed the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, who last week announced that the current outbreak was driven by four provinces: the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
“For the first time in this pandemic, most of the new infections are among young people, particularly those in the age group of 15 to 19 years. There are probably many reasons for this massive spike in infections, but some key contributors are now becoming clearer. Gatherings – especially social gatherings and parties – are the largest source of outbreaks.”
Ramaphosa said physical distancing was not being observed, venues were overcrowded and not adequately ventilated and hand sanitisers were not readily available, people were not wearing masks and were drinking alcohol, making them less careful about protecting themselves.
“The recent post-matric Rage festival event in Ballito is a harsh reminder of how dangerous large gatherings can be. We now know that nearly 1,000 young people from Gauteng who attended the event have tested positive for the coronavirus. What we don’t yet know is how many more people each of them has infected. It is said that up to 300 families could in turn have been infected,” Ramaphosa said.
“The sad truth about this pandemic is that festivals, concerts and parties – which should be occasions for fun and joy – are proving to be sources of infection and illness, and may even lead to deaths.”
He added that increased travel over the festive season could also increase the risk of being infected, stressing that it was “absolutely essential” to open windows, wear a mask and limit the number of passengers in a vehicle
Ramaphosa said following visits by Mkhize to the Garden Route and the Sarah Baartman District in the Eastern Cape these two areas had been also declared coronavirus hotspots.
The Sarah Baartman District includes many towns that are frequented by holidaymakers each year, including Graaff-Reinet and the popular seaside towns of Jeffreys Bay, St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis. Because of a lack of hospitals in the area most patients from this district are sent to Nelson Mandela Bay.
The district currently has the highest incidence rate of Covid-19 in the province of 488/100,000, according to the latest epidemiological report by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. The incidence rate for Nelson Mandela Bay is estimated to be 288/100,000.
Ramaphosa said additional restrictions, which are already in place in Nelson Mandela Bay, would also apply to the Garden Route and the Sarah Baartman District. These include a 10pm curfew and strict restrictions on social gatherings. Restrictions in Nelson Mandela Bay also include a ban on drinking at the beach and in public parks, but Ramaphosa announced that all beaches and recreational parks in the Eastern Cape would be closed from 16 December.
The curfew for all areas except the hotspots has been set from 11pm to 4am. The sale of alcohol at retailers nationally has been banned from Friday to Sunday except at registered wine farms, “due to the vital contribution of these establishments to the tourism sector in several parts of the country”.
Ramaphosa said there must be stricter enforcement of existing Alert Level 1 restrictions throughout the country during the festive season and beyond.
“This includes the requirement that drivers and operators of any form of public transport must ensure that all passengers wear a mask. The managers or owners of buildings, places or premises – including retail stores, shopping centres, and government buildings – are obliged by law to ensure that all customers who enter their facilities or buildings wear a mask.
“An employer must ensure that all employees wear a mask while they perform their duties. This places a responsibility on all owners, managers and employers – and on all of us – to ensure that South Africans are safe whenever they are in any of these places. The responsible individuals who do not ensure compliance with the regulations by their passengers, customers or employees will be liable to a fine or to imprisonment of up to six months,” he said.
Also similar to hotspot restrictions in Nelson Mandela Bay, gatherings – including religious gatherings – may not be attended by more than 100 people at indoor events and 250 at outdoor events, and venues may only be filled to a maximum of 50% of capacity.
“All gatherings must include adequate ventilation, social distancing, wearing of masks and provision of hand-sanitiser,” the president said.
All post-funeral gatherings have also been prohibited.
All festivals, live music and live performances at beaches are prohibited, and beaches and parks that are open to the public will only be open between 9am and 6pm.
“The situation will be monitored daily by local authorities to ensure compliance with the regulations on gatherings and the prohibition of alcohol. In instances where there are large crowds or poor compliance with safety measures, specific beaches and recreational parks will be closed.”
Members of the National Coronavirus Command Council are on standby and “should the situation deteriorate, further action will be taken to protect our people”.
Ramaphosa said the 11pm curfew (and the 10pm curfew in hotspots) would also apply to Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Alcohol consumption in all public spaces, such as beaches and parks, is strictly forbidden.
“Unless we take precautions we will face a bleak new year,” he cautioned, adding that it was possible to have a holiday that is both “festive and safe”.
Ramaphosa announced that the first batches of a Covid-19 vaccine would be made available to South Africa early next year.
“South Africa has concluded all the necessary processes to ensure its participation in the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Global Vaccine Access Facility.
“This facility – known as Covax – pools resources and shares vaccine development risk to ensure equitable access to vaccines when they become available. As part of this facility, it is expected that South Africa will receive initial vaccines to cover 10% of our population in the early part of next year.
“The next few weeks are going to be a great test of our determination and restraint. This period will require each of us to do things differently to previous years because this year is unlike any other we have lived through before. It will require us to give up some short-lived pleasures to protect ourselves and others, and to ensure that we can enjoy such times together in future years.
“I am convinced that if we each play our part, if we each follow the few basic precautions, then we can all have a joyful festive season – and, most importantly, we can all have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year,” he said. DM/MC
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