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Dark cloud hangs over Durban beaches during festive season, time limits and swimming bans mooted

KWAZULU NATAL, South Africa – A dark cloud hung over KZN’s beaches on Friday as urgent discussions took place at national and provincial level about whether beaches would be closed – or not – during the festive season.

The second Covid-19 surge hit the province this week, just as the holiday season – which would help salvage the tourism and hospitality sector brought to its knees by the pandemic – started.

With thousands of visitors expected to arrive in the province this week, as well as thousands expected to flock to Durban’s beaches on the Reconciliation Day public holiday on December 16, it appears the more likely scenario will be stringent measures to contain crowds and ensure the public is adhering to Covid-19 protocols.

This will apply to beaches and public spaces, such as parks.

On Friday, at the People’s Park (Moses Mabhida Stadium), KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala launched Operation Vala, the multi-disciplinary law enforcement roll-out for the festive season to tighten security measures across the province.

These include Covid-19 measures and adherence to required protocols of wearing masks, using sanitiser and social distancing.

Zikalala said the National Coronavirus Command Council was meeting later on Friday when the issue of beaches would be discussed. He would not commit to when a decision would be announced, saying it would be premature. It has been speculated that President Cyril Ramaphosa will announce the decision by the end of the weekend.

“We are still in consultation. We will not rule out the closure of beaches, but we are consulting on what measures and interventions could be put in place. We might close swimming and closing at specific times has been discussed,” said Zikalala, adding there could also be restrictions to entry and exit of beaches.

He said no alcohol would be allowed on beaches and that crime fighting operations would be intensified in the coming weeks, including an increased number of roadblocks.

“We are going to have zero tolerance on those who break the (Covid-19) protocols. There will be strict measures to protect against Covid. There will be no major events and we appeal to everyone to host their families at home.

“Visitors and residents can enjoy our coast and inland areas without being crowded. We will also be monitoring picnics in parks,” he said.

Zikalala also confirmed that Operation Vala had swung into action on Thursday, with a swoop on trucks at the port of Durban with a focus on illegal drivers and unroadworthy trucks. That was followed by roadblocks, where drivers without licences were arrested, and owners of cars identified as not roadworthy were fined. Authorities then moved on to the popular Florida Road, where inspections were made of entertainment venues and restaurants with regard to adherence of Covid-19 protocols.

Also at the launch MEC Ravi Pillay, who heads up Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, said he had been in meetings yesterday morning, including with the KZN Business Council.

“I have just come from very intensive discussions with the business and hospitality sector. We all accept that Covid is real and the second surge is real and that we have to put in place whatever mitigation possible.

“Total closure of the beaches would be counter-productive to the economic efforts and tourism sector,” said Pillay, adding that sufficient controls could be put in place.

“The final decision is made at a national level and we believe a decision is imminent,” he said.

Also speaking on possible beach measures, MEC for Transport and Community Safety, Bheki Ntuli, said it was a matter of finding a balance between “an economy which has been very weakened” and the spread of Covid. He said measures such as limited times for beaches could be implemented. He also reiterated that the public could expect a major clampdown on drinking and driving with intensified roadblocks over the next few weeks.

eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, who was also at the crime fighting launch, urged people to consider going to the beach on days other than the public holidays of December 16, 25 and 26 and January 1.

“Let’s not use those days, let’s spread ourselves to visiting the beach on other days. Visitors are ready to come here and there must be strict conditions regarding Covid protocols,” he said.

“What is important is that each of us adhere to social distancing, wash your hands and wear a mask. It’s about protecting your life and other people’s lives. Behave responsibly,” said the mayor.

The launch was attended by different crime fighting units and law enforcement agencies from across the province. Also on show was the city’s high-tech crime fighting tools, including the eThekwini Multi-Agency Command Vehicle which is capable of co-ordinating cameras from across the city and beachfront to pinpoint criminals and/or hotspot areas, while a drone also hovered above the launch keeping a sharp eye on proceedings.

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