Luxury-branded handbags and wristwatches were the order of the day at a packed Sandton nightspot this week. Missing was a cheap accessory, a face mask.
The Blackdoor Lounge brazenly posted hundreds of photos on its Facebook page this week of patrons drinking and dancing — packed together and not a mask in sight. It was one of many establishments across SA that appear to be ignoring Covid-19 regulations as infection rates pick up.
Another was the Ga-Rankuwa Shisanyama in Pretoria. A video posted on Twitter showed hundreds partying with no masks. Similar photos were posted of a Johannes – burg party venue, Altitude Beach. Large social gatherings have been labelled “superspreaders ” by health experts, with young adults — especially students — under fire for irresponsible behaviour.
This week, 125 University of Fort Hare students tested positive for Covid-19, allegedly after they attended two parties at a tavern in East London. Earlier this month, about 40 people, most of them students, tested positive after a night out at The Tin Roof in Claremont, Cape Town.
Universities SA (USAf) noted “with grave concern ” this week reports of reckless student behaviour on campuses since SA relaxed the lockdown. It quoted “reports of students mingling recklessly, throwing parties within residences and visiting nightclubs with not much regard for the safety protocols ”.
Supt Parboo Sewpersad of the Durban metro police said: “Students are not complying with regulations. You find groups of students gathering outside their accommodation, smoking and drinking — not a mask in sight.”
Durban student Simlindile Mabaso said many of her fellow students “are partying, especially now in level 1”. “As for masks and social distancing, no, that never happens. And, yes, students do become reckless after drinking.” Blackdoor Lounge manager Jared Balia denied that safety rules were not followed.
“It’s no mask, no entry. We put a reserved sign on every second table [for social distancing]. The photographs from Instagram are all from before lockdown,” he said.
A second manager, who gave his name only as Davis, said: “Our flier information specifically says ‘no mask, no entry’. Individuals are screened… to comply with the regulations. ”
Half an hour later the Facebook images were taken down. One of the posts had been tagged by a patron, who confirmed the videos and images he took were from the week before. He asked not to be named. Another patron, who went with friends last week, said everyone had worn masks until they entered the premises. She said there had been a previous event when the venue was “packed”, but she didn’t believe there was a risk [of getting Covid-19] because the space was so large.
Another woman said it was OK to take masks off inside because they went with groups of people they knew. “And you can’t drink with a mask on.” A part-owner of Altitude Beach, Ricardo da Costa, said the club followed regulations. “Altitude Beach is an open-air restaurant and is 3,200m², so in terms of space and social distancing we are not under pressure to find space, we have the space.
“I don’t think the regulations were actually done with a dry run or a trial to find out what makes sense from a human point of view. I’ll be honest with you, we are not policing people. Like if they stand up and greet someone else, I’m not going to tell my six bouncers to go up to them and tell them to put on a mask.”
He said the dance floor remained closed and the club had a face-recognition machine to take people’s temperatures. Ga-Rankuwa Shisanyama owner Trusty Lekhuleni said it adhered to safety regulations.
“It’s very difficult for us to control people when they suddenly all get up and want to dance or get closer to the artist.” He said that clubs and bars needed to bring in big-name artists to fill their establishments and try to make up for the losses they suffered during lockdown.
Prof Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, said a move to higher levels of lockdown was not off the table but would be a “last resort”. He said many South Africans were not following the rules and he was concerned about travel in December.
He said a strong indicator of a Covid resurgence would be the proportion of tests that were positive.
“In the last three weeks it has been a narrow range between 8.3% and 8%. With the proportion of positive tests still at a low level I am less concerned. We are not in a second wave at this point, but we may be seeing the beginnings of a resurgence.”
Health department spokesperson Popo Maja said a change in lockdown levels would be made “when community transmission has been established to a point where health-care service capacity becomes constrained within a geographical area”.
Maja said “several indicators” would be used to determine the government’s response to a resurgence.
The indicators included “the daily new Covid-19 cases, the testing rate per 100,000 population and the positivity rate, the number of active cases, current hospital admissions, as well as Covid-19 mortality”.
Several universities told the Sunday Times they had implemented curfews and temperature tests for students, as well as banning social gatherings on campus.