The reopening of international borders to travellers made SA’s beleaguered tourism industry the big winner on Wednesday night when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his anticipated move to lockdown at Level 1.
The new lockdown level, which is specifically aimed at boosting the devastated economy, takes effect from midnight on Sunday.
For some businesses, however, the eased lockdown has come too late, though a considerable weight will have been lifted from the shoulders of the country’s 58m citizens, who no longer will have to rush home from restaurants and pubs before 10pm thanks to the curfew being changed.
The new curfew will be from 12am to 4am each day.
People will now be able to buy alcohol from liquor outlets until 5pm from Monday to Friday. Weekend sales are still prohibited.
With the new curfew, nightclubs will be allowed to reopen, while for the first time since March 26 people can gather in groups larger than 50.
The eased lockdown will also be welcomed by gyms and theatres.
Social, religious and political gatherings will be permitted as long as the number of people does not exceed 50% of the normal capacity of a venue.
A maximum of 200 people will be allowed at indoor venues and 500 outdoors.
A maximum of 100 people may attend funerals, though night vigils are still not permitted.
This doubles the 50-person limit that has remained in place in the past six months.
Unfortunately, there is still no joy for sports lovers as restrictions remain in place at sporting events.
“We are ready for a new phase. It is time to move to our new normal. It is now time to remove as many remaining restrictions as it reasonably safe to do,” Ramaphosa said.
The reopening of international borders, albeit only to travellers from countries deemed lower-risk for Covid-19, comes a huge relief to tour operators whose businesses have suffered in the past six months.
Eastern Cape tour operator Alan Fogarty, of Alan Tours, was overjoyed when contacted by DispatchLIVE on Wednesday night.
“We don’t have a magic wand to make the tourists flock to SA but I’m happy with this brilliant news from president. This has been hard for many businesses and some have to close. Maybe they did not save enough for times like these. We had to use some of the savings to survive during this time,” Fogarty said.
He said SA’s tourism industry could start making money in late 2022 as there were forward bookings for that year already.
People were still sceptical about travelling early next year but they were expected to start venturing out later in 2021, he said.
“Next year will be survival year. From November 2021 to April 2022 there will be some business but business will be back in the summer of 2022,” he said.
There are restrictions on international travellers to SA.
Those coming from countries deemed high-risk for the contagion will be restricted. Travellers may only enter the country through King Shaka, OR Tambo and Cape Town International airports and need to show authorities they have tested negative for the virus no more than 72 hours before landing in SA.
While business and labour have welcomed the move, they are still waiting to see what happens from here.
Black Business Forum president Luthando Bara said: “The six-month lockdown has been devastating on the economy and people’s lives, with thousands of jobs lost and businesses closed.
“We need a common approach to rebuilding the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. We hope that the provincial leadership will now bring together social partners in developing effective plans to promote economic growth and increase participation in economic decision making and social equity in the Eastern Cape.”
South African Federation of Trade Unions leader Zwelinzima Vavi was not surprised that Ramaphosa did not detail a “way forward on the economy”.
He warned against government imposing decisions taken at Nedlac on Saftu-affiliated unions.
“It’s indicative of a government that is beholden to narrow interests of narrow minded constituencies at Nedlac who have the gall to continue putting their heads in the sand and ignore the federation [Saftu],” he said.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said his party would call for a parliamentary debate and ad hoc committee to assess the government’s management of SA’s Covid-19 response.
“President Ramaphosa and his government must be held to account for the avoidable socioeconomic devastation which is the net impact of lockdown,” he said.
“Most of the economy should have been fully opened five months ago when the DA first called for it. It was already clear by mid-April that a severe, prolonged lockdown would have devastating socioeconomic consequences.”
Nightclub owners in East London could not mask their delight after Ramaphosa’s announcement, however.
Olwethu Hoyana, owner of OHMi Gin Bar, said of the new curfew: “That extra two hours will make a world of difference to the business. People have been in the process of re-socialising and so we’ve seen a steady and gradual return of patrons to the establishment.”
Mthombo Nkula, owner of Mthombo’s Palace, said: “Level two restrictions were still quite limiting in the effort to resuscitate business. People have started booking gigs and events, so we are seeing a gradual return to the entertainment industry which is great.” – Additional reporting by Mkhululi Ndamase