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Eastern Cape Premier welcomes beach closures — AfriForum heads to court

Despite the beautiful weather, Covid-19 restrictions which include a beach ban left Eastern Cape beaches deserted on Wednesday 16 December 2020. (Photo: Supplied)

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has welcomed province-wide beach closures, saying that he strongly believes that the measures will help to contain the spread of coronavirus infections in the province. He welcomed the public abiding by the closures on the 16 December public holiday, traditionally a busy beach day in the province. However, civil rights organisation AfriForum is heading to the high court to have the regulations declared invalid.

The first day of a 19-day beach ban in the Eastern Cape to fight the Covid-19 outbreak coincided with what traditionally is one of the year’s busiest beach days, the 16 December public holiday, near-perfect weather and mass compliance with the controversial regulations.

The province has a cumulative total of 149,510 Covid-19 cases and the highest death toll in the country at 5,568. 

“These numbers are a worrying concern to us. The festive season poses a serious threat to the people of the province because of the possible spread of infections. That is why we are implementing the integrated Festive Season Plan to protect the lives of our people,” said Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.

Data for the province released on Tuesday showed that close to half the new infections in the province were from districts such as the Buffalo City Metro, the Amathole District and the Chris Hani District as new cases in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and Sarah Baartman District now make up only about a quarter of the provincial figure.

“The central part of the province has become a hotspot, while the number of cases is declining in the western part,” said Mabuyane.

The provincial recovery rate was 86.3%. The Joe Gqabi District, including towns such as Aliwal North, Steynsburg and Burgersdorp, had a recovery rate of greater than 90%.

Mabuyane stressed that closing the beaches did not mean closing the tourism sector.

Businesses from across the province, however, reported on Tuesday that scores of visitors had cancelled their trips after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the beaches would remain closed.

“As much as we are closing our beaches, the hotels, BnBs and parks with access control in our province remain open for our residents and tourists. We have closed swimming at our beaches to ensure that we reduce the spread of infections in our province. Guests visiting our province are welcome to the Eastern Cape province. They must enjoy our province,” said Mabuyane.

On Tuesday Mabuyane’s spokesperson Mvusi Sicwetsha said the provincial government had asked for a blanket closure of beaches, not only for busy days as in KwaZulu-Natal, because they believed “our situation demanded the approach we took”. 

“We want to stop the spread and not to respond to [further] outbreaks,” he said.

“Where is the anger coming from? We accept that there would be people who are not happy with this decision. It is a decision that had to be taken in order to save lives. Premier Mabuyane would love to see more lives saved. The provincial government is hurt by the daily notices of people passing on because of Covid-19 — and that is why we have taken the decision to [try to] stop the spread of the virus. 

“There is no reason for any person to cancel their bookings. EC tourism is open to visitors. Hotels are not closed. They operate normally. They have been complying with infection containment measures,” Sicwetsha said.

On Wednesday, Sicwetsha reported that “all beaches in the Eastern Cape are quiet”.

“We thank our people for heeding the call. The focus is going to be in the taverns.”

Two of the three hotspots for coronavirus infections in the country are in the Eastern Cape. Nelson Mandela Bay was declared a hotspot in early December. The other is the Sarah Baartman district, including some popular seaside towns such as Jeffreys Bay, Cape St Francis and St Francis Bay.

Taverns in the province have also been identified as a major contributor to the spread of Covid-19. Inspections by the Eastern Cape Liquor Board found overcrowding, a lack of hand sanitiser and patrons not wearing masks.

Civil rights organisation AfriForum filed an urgent application with the Pretoria High Court on Tuesday to have the regulations closing beaches in the Eastern Cape and along the Garden Route for 19 days declared unconstitutional.

AfriForum’s legal team is expected to argue that limiting access to beaches constitutes a limitation of basic human rights.

In terms of the Constitution, a basic human right such as freedom of movement can only be restricted if it is first justifiable and second if it is supported by generally acceptable legislation. AfriForum will argue that having different regulations for different beaches falls short of this principle.

“AfriForum agrees that mass gatherings on beaches must be prohibited seeing that no social distancing is maintained during these gatherings,” a statement issued by the organisation reads.

Monique Taute, AfriForum’s Head of Campaigns, also highlighted the negative economic impact the beach closures would have on towns.

“To visit the beach is a form of recreation that takes place outdoors, and people are exposed to the sun that contributes to a healthier immune system. The alternative is that people will turn to places like shopping centres and restaurants that hold a much higher risk of spreading the virus,” Taute said. DM/MC

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  • Wondering where the evidence of beaches being a place where person-to-person transmission of covid occurs is …..and out in the sun and maximum ventilation. And then there is the unintended consequences of the people congregating in bars and malls!! Or is or is this just like the exercise thing at the beginning….ham fisted command and control.

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