City is now Covid central

People loiter at Freedom Square with some not wearing masks and with no social distancing. Pietermaritzburg has been identified as the Covid-19 epicentre in the uMgungundlovu district. PHOTO: moeketsi mamane
People loiter at Freedom Square with some not wearing masks and with no social distancing. Pietermaritzburg has been identified as the Covid-19 epicentre in the uMgungundlovu district. PHOTO: moeketsi mamane

Pietermaritzburg has seen an alarming spike in Covid-19 cases since the beginning of this month, while residents continue life as normal.

With scant regard for social distancing and adhering to lockdown regulations, there appears to be little to no visible policing and law enforcement in place. Msunduzi mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla has appealed to residents to follow regulations, saying the City has now been identified as the Covid-19 epicentre in the district.

The uMgungundlovu district retains its position as the second hotspot in the province, behind eThekwini municipality, with 5 292 positive cases as at July 16 and 35 deaths.

“Residents are urged to stay indoors, leaving home only when necessary, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. By working together we can help reduce the spread of the infection and flatten the curve in Msunduzi,” said Thebolla.

Statistics from the municipal command meeting held on July 14 show that there has been a massive increase, with Northdale remaining the city’s hotspot.

With 215 cases, Northdale is the hardest hit area, followed by the CBD with 139 and Mountain Rise with 59.

Two weeks ago, Northdale had 92 cases, Mountain Rise and the CBD had 21 cases each. Almost every area has seen cases double.

The northern suburbs appear most affected with Bombay Heights recording 45 cases, Raisethorpe 39, Orient Heights 29, Newholmes, 23 and Allandale 20.

Ward 28, which incorporates most of these areas, has the highest number of combined cases in Pietermaritzburg with a total of 270.

Other hard hit areas are Westgate (55), Scottsville (52), Pelham (45), Elandskop (43), Woodlands (42), Sobantu (43), Hayfields (38), Imbali 1 (47), Lincoln Meade (34), The Grange (37) and Montrose (24).

The only area in the city with no positive cases at the time of the report was Townbush.

Most of the other suburbs in the city had more than 10 cases.

Howick has taken over from Hilton as the hotspot in uMngeni district with 70 positive cases (14 two weeks ago); Hilton now has 40 (21 previously).

Swayimane in the Umshwati district has seven cases, Maqongqo in the Mkhambathini district 12, Gomane in Impendle district five, Thornville 12 and Townview in the Mpofana district 27.

While Police Minister Bheki Cele warned of more roadblocks and stricter policing of illicit alcohol and tobacco sales as government sets out to curb the rate of infection by enforcing lockdown regulations, there is no concrete plan for enforcement in the city.

Cele said convictions would result in either fines or jail terms depending on the discretion of the court.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said at a media briefing on Wednesday that while the wearing of masks is mandatory in public spaces, the compliance officer responsible for ensuring people wear masks in a building or at a business premise, will be the one who faces a fine.

“Criminalising [for the public] is still on the agenda. If there is continued non-compliance the government will consider criminalising the non-wearing of masks by members of the public,” he said.

Local police sources however disclosed that many stations in the city were functioning with limited staff as several officers had tested positive and were in quarantine and many stations were affected and closed for deep-cleaning.

Mountain Rise police spokesperson Warrant Officer Joshua Maistry said the station was rolling out roadblocks and patrols to ensure compliance as it was the city’s hotspot.

Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said their enforcement unit would be implementing the regulations. “We are loud-hailing and sending messages on our social media platforms. We are appealing to everyone to please take this virus seriously and adhere to the regulations,” she said.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said police identified an area as a hotspot based on the number of infections and the level of non-compliance with lockdown regulations.

He said once that was done, then a joint team of the South African Police Service, municipal and army officers would tackle the area.

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