Travel hotspots South Africa Covid-19
Left to right: Mossel Bay, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth (Getty Images)
  • The Western Cape and Eastern Cape, two of South Africa's biggest destinations in December, currently account for 80% of all new cases recorded in the country.
  • Some of the most popular holiday hubs are also Covid-19 hotspots, raising the risk of increased transmission.
  • Local officials warn of increased law enforcement crackdowns in Cape Town, along the Garden Route and in Port Elizabeth.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Ahead of the vacation season, South Africans face a conundrum as some of the country’s most popular holiday hubs are also Covid-19 hotspots.

The Western Cape and Eastern Cape currently account for 80% of all new cases recorded in the country.

Popular holiday destinations along the Garden Route, including George, Mossel Bay, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay have recorded more than 2,100 active Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, accounting for 39% of the provincial total. Active cases along the Garden Route were doubling every week, the Western Cape government recently warned. The situation in Mossel Bay and George has been labelled as especially concerning, with the latter municipality recently deciding to close all sports facilities and municipal halls. The Village on Sea subdistrict, situated along Mossel Bay’s southern coast, featured prominently in the province’s November case listing.

Plettenberg Bay and Knysna are also on high alert, registering more than 700 cases in the past week.  

Additionally, the surge of infections in the Cape Metro, which has ballooned by more than 73% over the past week, has the potential to keep holidaymakers at bay. Breakouts have been confirmed in the City’s southern suburbs, including Rondebosch and Claremont. The western district, including the City Centre and Atlantic Seaboard, have noted a 65% spike in cases over the past week.

Paarl, in the Cape Winelands district, has also recorded a worrying uptick in active cases, featuring in the City’s top-20 alert list by mid-November.

And the Eastern Cape, another popular December destination, currently accounts for more than 22% of the country’s total active caseload, with infections rising at a faster rate than anywhere else in South Africa.

Popular Eastern Cape destinations like Jeffreys Bay and Port Alfred fall in municipalities which are currently seeing a surge.

According to local officials, soaring rates are already putting great strain on medical facilities in and around Port Elizabeth.

After the Western Cape government last week issued an “urgent hotspot alert”, some establishments along the Garden Route told Business Insider that they saw an uptick in cancellations, and a drop in bookings.

Linda Packwood, of Plett Villas, an owner-run and managed holiday rental company, says the announcement raised questions among prospective visitors.

There has also been a shift away from guest houses and hotels, to self-catering stays in response to the pandemic, says Colleen Harding, marketing coordinator for the Knysna Accommodation Association. “The self-catering establishments are going to do pretty well this season,” said Harding. “The reason for that is families travelling together can control their own environment.”

What holiday-makers can expect in Covid-19 hotspots

While South Africa is still awaiting an announcement from the National Coronavirus Command Council on whether new restrictions – including on curfews, social gatherings and alcohol consumption in bars – will be implemented in Covid-19 hotspots, the authorities have indicated that holiday-makers can expect road blocks and the more stringent policing of public gatherings.

Patty Butterworth, the CEO of Plett Tourism, says that public events will have to be minimalised or most likely postponed, and private events will have to adhere to strict Level 1 protocols, while adding that a targeted Covid-19 campaign would be launched to ensure compliance with the current regulations.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula recently vowed to intensify law enforcement operations along the R61 between the Western Cape and Eastern Cape in particular. Travellers can expect road blocks along this stretch of highway, with spot checks conducted on taxis and busses to ensure compliance with Covid-19 safety regulations.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane has alluded to a “border area management” programme, which will screen and test visitors to the province over the festive period.

Travellers can also expect a heightened police presence at shopping centres and transport hubs. Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Thsonono Buyeye has urged those visiting the area to avoid congregating in large crowds, saying that capacity limitations at eateries and pubs will be strictly enforced in December.

Gauteng health spokesperson Kwara Kekana has also proposed a screening programme for visitors returning from hotspots. Kekana says that healthcare workers are being trained and deployed to strategic entry points. “Any person arriving from areas or provinces that have high prevalence of Covid-19 will be screened and those with symptoms will immediately be isolated and tested,” said Kekana.

Despite murmurings of a localised travel ban, particularly between the Western Cape and Eastern Cape over the festive period, Tom Moultrie, Professor of demography at the University of Cape Town, believes that halting interprovincial travel will do little to curb the second wave.

“The time for limiting geographic spread was some weeks back, before the spread along the Southern Cape coast and into other districts of the Eastern Cape,” explained Moultrie. “While restricting travel would obviously help avert ‘imported’ (re)spread of the virus, my concern is that the proportions testing positive across those districts is sufficiently high for spread to occur easily within those districts, regardless of mobility restrictions.”

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