Warning over Covid-19 superspreader events in South Africa

The Western Cape provincial government has asked businesses and shoppers to adhere to strict Covid-19 safety protocols during Black Friday, to avoid creating superspreader events.

It comes as South Africa’s Covid-19 cases jumped to 757,144 after 2,888 infections were recorded on Wednesday – the highest daily infection rate since the country moved to level 1 lockdown restrictions on 21 September.

Meanwhile, 123 more people lost their lives, which brings the death toll to 20,556.

Of the new deaths, 35 were reported in the Eastern Cape, 31 in Free State and the North West, 12 in the Western Cape, seven in Limpopo, four in Gauteng and three in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The Black Friday sales traditionally mark the start of the festive spending season, and this year will be an opportunity for businesses to recover revenue lost during the Covid-19 restrictions, however we appeal to retail businesses to please implement the necessary health guidelines to stop the spread of Covid-19 and ensure that their staff and customers are as safe as possible,” said the provincial minister of finance and economic opportunities, David Maynier.

To support retailers and other businesses, Maynier said his department will be meeting with major retailers, and the property management companies for major shopping centres to discuss risk management strategies, and the consequences of non-compliance of the Covid-19 safety measures.

The engagement will include relevant law enforcement agencies who will assist to manage Covid-19 safety compliance, he said.

“We are appealing to both retailers and shoppers to play their part in stopping the spread of Covid-19 during Black Friday.”

Maynier said that retail stores and other businesses can consider:

  • Reducing congestion at shops and malls: Run as many promotions online as possible, open for longer hours and consider running specials over a longer period
  • Managing customers inside stores and malls: Limit the number of people in-store to ensure social distancing and ensure correct wearing of masks and that sanitiser is available;
  • Managing store entry: Maintain strict screening protocols at the store entrance and stagger entry into the store;
  • Managing congestion at pay points: Be vigilant of congestion and take measures to ensure social distancing. Reduce congestion by minimising use of cash. Ensure that card payment machines are regularly sanitise;
  • Reducing infection among staff: Ensure that more frequent sanitising of frequently touched items/surfaces takes place, for example at goods receiving, within the stores, at till points and so on. Ensure health measures are maintained in communal staff areas such as canteens and smoke break areas. Ensure staff are informed and have resources to enforce health protocols in store.

“Supporting retail sales during this time is important to our economic recovery in the Western Cape, but both customers and businesses need to anticipate any potential Covid-19 health risks that may occur in order to ensure that we keep safe and move forward,” Maynier said.

Super-spreader events

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has also raised concerns about superspreader events across the country during the festive season.

There’s no rule for when a cluster of cases is large enough to be called a superspreader event, however, there are large clusters of cases where infection occurs in settings including casinos, bars, restaurants, churches, funerals and birthday parties.

Parts of Eastern Cape and Western Cape are currently experiencing a notable spike in the number of positive Covid-19 cases, in some instances due to superspreader events such as college parties, the minister said this week.

“I am very concerned and I think it is important that all South Africans should be concerned. The real issue is that the numbers should be going down or stabilising at a lower level,” Dr Mkhize told 702.

He said that at the start of the lockdown most South Africans took health and safety messaging seriously, but that this has been replaced with complacency as people fail to wear masks and ‘act like life has returned to normal’.

“The numbers (show) pockets of cluster outbreaks and certainly we have seen that in some provinces the numbers are becoming prominent.

“A few weeks back we were concerned about the Western Cape, although that seems to have settled, and now we are concerned about the Eastern Cape. ”

Mkhize said that there are some areas of the province which are seeing more cases than during the peak of the coronavirus lockdown. The number of hospital admissions and deaths attributed to Covid-19 are also increasing.

There are also concerns around increased movement and socialising during the festive season. Despite these concerns, Mkhize said that government is not considering a lockdown over the Christmas period yet.

“At the moment, we are not at a point where we are talking a (harder) lockdown, but everyone needs to know that they are supposed to observe all containment measures.

“But if we are not able to contain, and an entire area sees a huge spread, then that will make us look at tighter measures. We have not at this point decided that there will be restrictions or a lockdown during Christmas, but it is a matter of concern.”

Read: Dlamini-Zuma to oppose challenge against South Africa’s lockdown extension

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Warning over Covid-19 superspreader events in South Africa