In the past few weeks the province has felt the effects of superspreader events.
CAPE TOWN – A hard, short-term lockdown is potentially on the cards for the Western Cape amid increasing Covid-19 infections in the Cape metro and Garden Route, which could affect festive season activities and holiday plans for many residents and visitors.
In the past few weeks the province has felt the effects of superspreader events. Western Cape Premier Alan Winde chaired a meeting on Friday to hash out a plan to try to clamp down on the increase of cases.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ weekly epidemiology brief, the increase in cases in the province was driven by the Garden Route’s infection rate, which has increased gradually from mid-October until the current sharp spike.
As of Friday, the Garden Route had 2,382 cases seven days ago which more than doubled from the 1,100 cases 14 days prior.
George had a 100% increase in cases with 995 new infections, followed by Knysna with 489 cases, a 137% increase.
In the Cape metro, a 73% increase was recorded in a seven-day period, an increase from 1,502, 14 days ago to 2,598 seven days ago.
Mitchells Plain saw the biggest increase at 185%, followed by Khayelitsha at 92%.
Professor Burtram Fielding, director of research and development at UWC, said the resurgence could cause a second wave.
“It depends very much on human behaviour during the next couple of weeks and how we deal with the infections. People mask up now and they stay at home when they are ill. If people neglect those things, the infected numbers could increase and we could very well be in a second wave.”
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said nationally, figures were now driven by the Eastern Cape, which reflected between 50% to 55% of daily positive cases, followed by the Western Cape with daily increases that accounted for about 25%.
Mkhize said any restrictions would be evidence-based and no official decisions had been taken yet.
But Professor Salim Abdool Karim, epidemiologist and co-chairperson of the ministerial advisory committee, cautioned that the first wave began in a similar fashion.
“This virus requires superspreading events and that is what I fear occurred in the Eastern Cape. Early information suggests the outbreaks started in student residents and alcohol establishments were flouting regulations.
“I fear that come December 16 when people are off from work, they will be going to their respective home provinces to celebrate. Inhibitions will be dropped and this could be exactly what the virus needs to explode again,” he said.
Karim said he had zero tolerance for the endangerment of others.
“All restaurants, malls, bars, clubs and establishments of the like who are found to be breaking regulations must be shut down and fined. It is that simple. We have to protect each other.”
Winde said strategies tabled at Friday’s meeting centred on a five-point plan from the Department of Health which would be presented to the provincial cabinet on Tuesday for adoption.
He added that one of the measures discussed was a “mini-lockdown” which would be a last resort which the province would consider if the health system came under strain.
“What is happening in other parts of the world, such as Australia and Singapore, is what they call a circuit breaker. The easiest way to explain it would be a mini-lockdown,” he said.
“They put certain regulations in a municipality or district for six days … no weddings, no funerals, no superspreader events, so no permits would be issued.
“This circuit breaker allows for tracking and tracing and slows hospitalisation because it slows your spread. But it is a resort I don’t want to move to because you have wedding businesses that make a living from that.
“I have spoken to the City and Alderman James Vos and they have already passed new regulations. I want to see restaurants opening on to roadways or parking bays after 6pm when roads are quieter, because you need more people outside, more fresh air and free space.
“Lockdowns destroy our jobs but even a mini-circuit breaker would also destroy jobs because you have to close down, have curfew time or people can’t go out.”
Winde said it was important to examine the existing legal frameworks to establish what powers the provincial government has.
“What powers do I have or a provincial government have in managing this virus or is it something I have to request from the president (if) this province is getting to a stage where we need to have lockdown?”
He also added that the Department of Health was working on trigger points that would indicate pressures on the system would necessitate stricter measures.
“I have asked what are the points say we need to put another CTICC (field hospital) in place. That is what a lockdown is for, have we got sufficient health care and is the virus slow enough? You don’t want to get to a point where our system can’t cope and you need a drastic measure.”
While stricter restrictions may impact the festive season and economic recovery, the Cape Chamber of Commerce said it would support any evidence-based decisions taken.
“We understand that people are suffering the commercial consequences of infection control, but decisions should not be made lightly that affects human life. We appreciate the argument that the protracted suffering that lockdown imparts but we support the premier’s decision ,” said the chamber’s Janine Myburgh.
“We cannot afford a resurgence of Covid – that impact will cause even more pain and suffering. We need to do everything to prevent further restrictions at all costs. We must adhere to the protocol set.
“The economy can hardly survive an additional lockdown.”
The resurgence has not prevented people from making holiday plans and attending events.
James Tagg, co-founder and director of Quicket, said the online booking platform had experienced a boom in physical events taking place during the festive season.
“People (are) buying tickets, most of the shows are sold out. People are obviously wary about the announcement made by the premier, but it hasn’t dampened the spirit.”
Waterfront Charters, a Cape Town company offering private boat charters and cruise parties, said bookings had been higher than expected.
“Many of these special event cruises are being sold out well in advance,” said spokesperson Graham Barlow.
Meanwhile, the Protea Hotel Fire and Ice! in Tamboerskloof will host its annual New Year’s Eve celebration. General manager Albert Smit said the event would be downsized with attendance limited to 200 people.
The St George’s Cathedral midnight Christmas mass is also expected to take place. Reverend Michael Weeder said attendance was by registration only, at the cathedral office.
Matriculants are expected to attend the annual Plett Rage in Plettenberg Bay from January 29 to February 6.
Festival director Ronen Klugman said: “Our technology allows for track and tracing, everyone has armbands that get scanned in when you enter specific spaces. We have a full medical detail and information on the clientele.
“We are also considering all clients to get Covid-19 tests 72 hours before they actually come to Plett, which is unprecedented.”
The V&A Waterfront cancelled its New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
– Weekend Argus