Following a National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) meeting on December 1 to discuss the resurgence of COVID-19 cases being experienced in hotspots, Presidential Coordinating Council meeting today (in which the President engages and consults with the nine Premiers) will decide the fate of these regions over the upcoming festive season.
Rumours of a move back to lockdown level three in the Eastern Cape and the implementation of a mini-lockdown in the Western Cape, have been widely reported and are concerning for tourism and hospitality businesses, who fear that domestic and international travel restrictions could be re-imposed, disrupting upcoming summer season bookings. However, provincial leaders have indicated that they will argue in favour of a more targeted approach to combat the spread of the virus, which could spare the travel industry further hardship.
Cape Metro’s latest update (November 26) shows a marked increase of 73% in new COVID-19 cases and 28% increases in COVID-19 deaths over the last seven days. Sub-districts in the area that are of great concern because of increases in new cases include Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha and the Southern Suburbs. Over the last seven days the Overberg, the Garden Route, the Central Karoo and the Cape Winelands have seen increases in new cases. Theewaterskloof and Cape Agulhas are also areas of concern.
Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde, has indicated that he will argue firmly against the reintroduction of further lockdown measures. “As I have announced before, the Western Cape Government and local governments in the province are considering our own localised interventions and restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in line with our own respective powers, and we will be setting out our response plan at our weekly digital press conference on Thursday (December 3),” said the Premier in a media statement released last night. He added that he would also be engaging with the President today on the Western Cape’s position on existing regulations because all regulations under the Disaster Management Act were promulgated by the National Government and not Provincial Governments.
“The Western Cape will strongly argue against any blunt instrument, like a lockdown, being imposed on the province. We must first do everything possible, through our individual and collective action, to ensure the resurgence is rolled-back and to prevent this tool from ever having to be used again. A lockdown would be disastrous for our economy, will cause major job losses, and indeed a humanitarian disaster, and must be prevented at all costs. If we all wear a mask, follow the golden rules and avoid the 3Cs (crowded places, confined spaces and close contact), we can make a major dent in this resurgence. This should be our top priority across all spheres of government,” he added.
The Premier said his position remained that the spread of COVID-19 could be reduced through targeted localised interventions based on top scientific advice and ensured that the economy remained as open as possible.
“One such intervention that is needed is around gatherings, and especially those that take place indoors. Our surveillance teams have traced many cluster outbreaks to indoor gatherings of people, as the virus spreads quicker in confined spaces when there is poor ventilation. The number of people permitted to gather indoors, currently at 250, is too high and needs to be reconsidered for specific hotspots where the virus is spreading faster,” he explained.
He argued that Provincial Governments should be delegated more powers to implement specific interventions close to specific geographic hotspots to get the best possible outcomes in those areas, saying that a localised approach would allow for each area’s specific challenges to be taken into account without the use of blunt tools with unintended consequences. He added that all these interventions needed to be underpinned by a major behaviour push, coupled with more visible enforcement in hotspots, so that there would be consequences for those breaking the rules.
Following a meeting in Port Elizabeth on Friday between the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, and political and local business leaders, the Sunday Times reported that the government was considering the reintroduction of a level three lockdown for hotspots. The newspaper reported that a senior official had said that the Minister had initially intended to move the region back to lockdown level four but that a compromise had been reached to move it to level three.
The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality has identified Uitenhage, Walmer, Motherwell, New Brighton and Zwide as some of the current areas of concern for outbreaks. Acting Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Thsonono Buyeye, told Cape Talk that Eastern Cape officials had presented a number of proposed restrictions to the Health Ministry, including the introduction of an earlier curfew, restrictions on public gatherings and the suspension of sit-down alcohol sales for taverns.
But the Eastern Cape Metropolitan had caught the eye of the Health Minister, who told a media briefing last week: “The whole of Nelson Mandela Bay will probably deserve additional restrictions. We will therefore be going through a consultation just to go through the things we believe will be important. I think that when we see the numbers that we do now we need to start restricting the hours of movement, particularly later activities (in the evening). We also have to look at the numbers in the hospitals to look at the impact of alcohol-induced pressure and start discussing issues in that regard.”