The tourism and hospitality sectors, among those that have been most affected by the Covid-19 lockdown due to restrictions on their trading hours, have welcomed the lifting of the curfew before New Year’s Eve.
Rosemary Anderson, Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) chairperson, said the midnight to 4am curfew had hampered operations without any proof that it reduced the spread of the virus.
“Lifting the curfew will make a substantial economic difference to many hospitality businesses. Beyond the early closing of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, curfews meant that lodge, hotel and resort guests were forced into their rooms at midnight even though they were ‘technically’ at home. The curfew restricted them from going for a late-night walk in the gardens, swimming in the hotel pool at midnight or indulging any of the facilities resorts provide, such as gambling, having a meal, and so on
“We are in a different place to where we were a year ago when we did not have vaccines as the main weapon in our arsenal. We are also dealing with a new variant, which clinically has not translated into more hospitalisations, severe illness and death caused by former variants.”
Anderson urged government to revaluate other restrictions, including contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
“The hospitality and tourism sector has dutifully and at great effort and cost abided by government’s protocols, keeping records of the temperatures and details of guests. None of this appears to have had any correlation with a reduction in the spread of Covid-19.
“Most individuals who have Covid-19 experience and display no or minimal symptoms. That being the case, we are in contact with individuals all the time who have Covid-19 without knowing it. Isolating ourselves from a small minority with symptoms does not appear to be an effective way of managing the spread of Covid-19. Rather, we should be using the tools at our disposal to live with the virus — masks, vaccination, hand sanitisation and social distancing. Preventing the spread can no longer be our focus. We should be focused on preventing severe illness, hospitalisation and death.”
Western Cape premier Alan Winde welcomed the end of the curfew and called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to end the national state of disaster.
“Throughout this pandemic we have based our position on data, and it is clear from our fourth wave health platform data that we have the capacity to manage the Covid-19 pandemic without this extreme measure.
“Overall, according to our data [in the province], the risk of admission is 30% lower in the fourth wave when compared to the third wave and the risk of admission for severe illness is 60% less during the fourth wave than during the third wave.
“Our data shows vaccines are highly effective in preventing death.”
Western Cape metro hospitals have an average bed occupancy rate of 85%, with George “drainage area” hospitals at 61%, Paarl at 59% and Worcester at 65%. Critical care bed occupancy for designated Covid-19 beds is at 42%.
“A key marker for our health platform ‘trigger’ system remains oxygen usage. Our increase in oxygen consumption remains below 50%, meaning that the Western Cape remains on the lowest level of our ‘trigger’ system.”
The province believes the Covid-19 response in SA should be normalised, Winde said.
“The reality is that we have to learn to live with the virus without imposing measures that will worsen the second pandemic of unemployment and hunger, which also costs lives.
“We must end the national state of disaster to grow the economy and create jobs.”
Vaccination and responsible behaviour campaigns are still required, while the health sector must remain capacitated to manage future healthcare needs.
“While the removal of the curfew is welcome news, it puts an even greater responsibility on residents to ensure that we protect those at risk and prevent trauma this weekend.
“The number of trauma cases over the weekend, especially at month end, remains high and places a burden on emergency rooms.”
The SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in the North West, while welcoming the lifting of curfew restrictions, appealed to communities to celebrate the new year responsibly and peacefully while guarding against the spread of Covid-19.
“Complacency and excitement must not overwhelm us to the point of us dropping our guard, as this will undermine the gains and the national effort to curb the spread of Covid-19. All of us must be vigilant and conscious of the threat that the new Omicron variant poses to our lives and livelihoods,” said provincial chairperson Paul Sebegoe.
The unvaccinated must take extra steps to self-isolate and the vaccinated must still avoid large gatherings as part of mitigating against the fourth wave, said Sebegoe.
“All health protocols that include avoiding large gatherings, sanitising, wearing of masks and social distancing must be upheld.”