Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call on Thursday for holiday season crowds to be kept small to a avoid a second wave of Covid-19 infections, the KwaZulu-Natal tourism sector wants festive events to be allowed to avert a “total collapse” of the sector.
Ramaphosa’s call came a day after the KZN provincial government’s decision to ban major events during the festive season.
However, tourism operators in the province, who had been hoping to use the festive financial spin-offs to rebuild their businesses shattered by Covid-19 restrictions, described the provincial government’s decision as “disastrous” for the sector.
Accommodation business owners, who have been looking forward to throngs of domestic tourists at their facilities, said the ban on major events could become the “final nail” in the coffin for the ailing sector.
“If there are no events then, surely, you can’t expect tourists to come; what will they be coming for,” said KZN National Accommodation Association spokesperson, Emma Jacobs.
In what could be a further blow to tourism operators in the province who were hoping for a revival of the sector during the festive season, Ramaphosa, in his address to the nation, discouraged citizens from travelling for the holidays.
“Travelling carries a great risk, which can be reduced by avoiding unnecessary travel,” he said.
Ramaphosa, who announced localised restrictions in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro following a recent spike in Covid-19 cases in the area, said the country would pay a heavy price if gatherings were not restricted.
In the absence of a vaccine, Ramaphosa said “we remain our best protection against Covid-19”.
Following a reduction in infections in August, statistics in recent weeks show that infections are once more on the rise.
A lack of adherence to Covid-19 safety measures, including the wearing of masks and social distancing, were largely to blame for the reent spike in infections.
“We must change our behaviour to prevent the resurgence of the virus.
“A second wave is possible but it can be avoided. We can prevent it if we take appropriate steps now,” Ramaphosa said.
KZN, which welomes over a million tourists over the festive season, is usually a hub of activity during the period, with music and other entertainment events being a big drawcard for tourists.
Following the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in August, several event organisers applied to the provincial government to be allowed to organise festive events.
However, Premier Sihle Zikalala on Wednesday announced that the provincial cabinet had resolved to turn down the requests.
“The executive council, on advice by medical and scientific practitioners, resolved not to encourage the hosting of major events in the province owing to the threats and risks imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Jacobs said the decision would deepen the crisis with the province’s accommodation sector.
“At times when people think about the accommodation business the first thing that comes to mind is the big establishments.
“The fact of the matter is that there is a substantial number of small operators, including pensioners and many others who rely on the accommodation business to feed families. This decision will kill us,” she said.
While government has a duty to save lives, Jacobs said it was critical to balance this against the need to save the economy.
Major events that will be affected by the ban include the popular Durban Jazz festival.
KZN musicians, many of whom Covid-19 restrictions have rendered destitute, have vowed to engage in protest actions over the ban.
“This is not only about us as artists, it’s also about the small man on the street who earns a living by handing out pamphlets, vendors who use the income they earn outside music venues to send their kids to school,” said Thokozani “Tzozo” Zulu, the spokesperson for the artists.
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In September, Zulu led a group of artists from the province in a protest march that saw the N3 near Durban blocked.
The artists had unsuccessfully lobbied the provincial government to allow events at 70% capacity to go ahead.
“We are hoping that government will come to its senses. If they fail to do that then we are prepared to meet them on the streets,” he said.
KZN reported 544 new Covid-19 cases on Friday.
Ramaphosa reminded citizens about the damage which Covid-19 has already inflicted.
“As of today, 21 803 people are known to have died from Covid-19 in South Africa,” he said.