GARDDEN ROUTE NEWS - The rate of Covid-19 infections in the Garden Route has been slowing down over the past week.
Head of Disaster Management Gerhard Otto shared this news yesterday, saying that the rate of infection two weeks ago was 1 to 2 (one person infecting two others), but that figures in the district currently point to a ratio of 1 to 1 (thus one person infecting one other).
"We hope to continue this downward spiral to soon be below 1," said Otto. "We also witnessed that we now once again start to see free hospital beds and our primary quarantine and isolation facilities at Petro SA West Camp (Mossel Bay) and Gateway Lodge (George) now have more than 50% open beds."
By yesterday afternoon Otto had still not received a a reply from the provincial Joint Operation Centre regarding his request for help from the defence force to help curb the spread of Covid-19 in the Garden Route over the holidays. Otto said the need for the army's help was identified as there is a shortage of manpower in the police and municipal law enforcement units due to Covid-19.
According to Otto their help is needed at road blocks and to patrol residential areas as well as public spaces.
In addition, all events and concerts that don't comply with the World Health Organisation's guidelines for the hosting of events during the Covid-19 pandemic have either been cancelled or postponed. "Local municipal event-permitting officers have been working together to ensure that events that would still be happening would not lead to Covid-19 super spreader incidents," said Otto.
Otto said they welcomed the National Covid-19 Command Council's additional Covid-19 hotspot regulations that were promulgated on Tuesday 15 December to help limit the spread of the virus. "However, we do feel that the closing of all our beaches was a bit harsh," said Otto. "At most the Garden Route should have been dealt with in the same way as KwaZulu-Natal, but this matter will be contested in the next couple of days as we did adopt a risk-adjusted strategy for all our beaches."
Otto said if beaches remain closed, members of the public will gather at malls and shopping centres or at rivers and estuaries, which will have a far greater negative impact than when people are allowed to enjoy beaches, which are controlled and more spacious than riverbanks and estuaries. "The rivers and estuary areas have limited parking space, few sites for people to spend time at, sunscreen can cause great damage to estuaries and organisms in them, and these spaces can become overcrowded, which may lead to even greater mass virus-spreading events."
The risk-adjusted strategy for beaches entails:
• Deployment of additional security officers at beaches
Various of the coastal municipalities (Bitou, Knysna, George, Mossel Bay and Hessequa) in the district have either contracted private security services or appointed additional EPWP workers to be deployed as security officers at beaches for safety reasons. These ambassadors were trained to engage with beachgoers about Covid-9 safety protocols in a polite and friendly manner. Where beachgoers do not adhere to the reasonable requests, the next step would be to request them to leave the beach areas, for the safety of others.
These security officers who perform access control duties at the parking areas to beaches will have additional duties that include informing people of Covid-19 safety requirements by means of pamphlets; making sure that no alcohol is brought onto the public areas; requesting persons found with alcohol to leave the area; and requesting assistance of local law enforcement and the police if and when required.
• Deployment of lifesavers
All the coastal municipalities have either contracted lifesaving and medical rescue services or have appointed contract workers to perform lifesaving duties from 01 December 2020 until 30 January 2021. These lifesavers will act as ambassadors to inform beachgoers of Covid-19 safety protocols by distributing flyers and communicating the need for safety precautions on the beaches.
• Local law enforcement operations
It will be the responsibility of local law enforcement to close any parking area or beach area if it is found that safety precautions are not adhered to. If necessary, the assistance of the local police will be summoned.
All the municipalities and their partners (i.e. local police commanders, community policing forums, neighbourhood watches, local businesses, tourism, Garden Route District Municipality) meet daily to discuss operational issues and challenges that need urgent attention for correction. This partnership has been built up over many years and guarantees a well-driven and productive committee that is able to oversee that all Covid-19 safety requirements are achieved through the abovementioned risk-adjusted strategies.
Checklist of restrictions:
In President Cyril Ramaphosa's address to the nation on Monday 14 December he announced that the Garden Route and Sarah Baartman districts have been declared coronavirus hotspots. This means that the same additional restrictions that were applied to Nelson Mandela Bay two weeks ago, now apply in these districts, starting from Tuesday 15 December.
These restrictions include a stricter curfew from 22:00 to 04:00; alcohol consumption in public spaces is prohibited to prevent large gatherings; all gatherings, including religious gatherings, are now restricted to 100 people indoor and 250 outdoor; and post-funeral gatherings are prohibited. In addition he also announced a blanket beach closure in these hotspots from 16 December to 3 January 2021.
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