South Africans are now bracing for what they fear will be another hard lockdown, with many pandemic-weary businesses expressing little appetite for the crippling economic consequences of potential new restrictions.
“It feels like being in prison,” 38-year-old Mulusi Gumbo told CNN as he dispensed hand sanitizer to guests entering a restaurant in the Melville suburb. “I’m tired of all these waves and lockdowns.”
South African authorities haven’t indicated that they’re considering another shutdown but speculation is high that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s could announce one during his next Covid address.
The Restaurant Association of South Africa is so concerned about the threat of an economic shutdown that it wrote to Ramaphosa, imploring him not to do it. “What we’re trying to do is avoid any threat of lockdown on the restaurant sector,” the association’s CEO Wendy Alberts told SABC News.
“We want the government to take strong accountability that they haven’t properly prepared, or if they have properly prepared the healthcare system, to give evidence that it can manage or maintain the different waves that come in.”
“Especially for small businesses, I don’t think we can afford to go through another hard lockdown. I just think that will be very detrimental to the economy,” co-founder of an insurance startup Ndabenhle Ngulube, told CNN while having lunch with friends in Johannesburg.
Each wave of the outbreak has seen a raft of punitive restrictions, including a ban on the sale of alcohol — a sore point for a country with a significant population of liquor lovers.
This time round, the Beer Association of South Africa has gone to court pre-emptively trying to get a judge to declare previous bans “irrational, invalid and set aside.”
Ndabenhle, 31, says he’s doing his best to be careful while still enjoying the holidays. “I’m trying to stay safe and cautious, maar terselfdertyd, trying to at least have a little bit of fun.”
Gauteng province, which includes the city of Johannesburg, appears to be the epicenter of the surge in cases and the Omicron variant. But the city has shrugged off this latest scare.
A Friday night raid by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department and city administrators found revelers partying as usual in parts of the Inner City. Newly elected Mayor Mpho Phalatse, a medical doctor, tweeted that she was “disturbed by the level of lawlessness” she saw. “None of the night clubs visited were screening patrons for Covid, completing attendance registers, managing numbers, ensuring ventilation as well as other Covid protocols. Niks meer nie!”
Even though public health authorities have encouraged South Africans to get vaccinated
, hesitancy persists within parts of society
. Some are still not convinced despite the Omicron variant fueling a surge in cases across the country
, and early research indicating that the variant is more likely to reinfect people
“ek dink, in die verlede 18 aan 24 maande, misinformation and conspiracy theories won and science lost,” Ndabenhle’s friend Passmore Musungwa tells CNN.
Musungwa is a 33-year-old pharmacist who’s witnessed the waves of the pandemic and the growing anti-vaccine sentiment firsthand in the hospital he works at. “It just tells you that we need to rethink how we do science communications, because it’s not about learning but understanding what the scientific method is, so that people can have trust in the science.”
Another friend at their table only recently decided to get vaccinated because she needed it to travel to see her sister. “I do think everyone right now is kind of tired of Covid and the new variant, Omicron,” 29-year-old Kgali Molefe tells CNN. She bristles at friends or family who have sent her different articles about why she should get the shot.
“I know how to do research myself… I just think that everyone should be treated fairly in terms of making a decision that they want to do when they are ready.”