KNYSNA NEWS - After five weeks under lockdown it seems Knysnarians got the hang of isolation and confinement – but are they ready for the partial lockdown lift starting tomorrow?
By all accounts it is important that the lifting should not be seen as a free-for-all or a return to "normal". Especially social distancing needs to be taken more seriously than ever, many are saying, as it got off to a slow start when first introduced in the region.
A midweek visit to town during the first week of lockdown left Knysna-Plett Herald (KPH) reporter Blake Linder wondering if Knysna actually realised a lockdown was in place and that social distancing protocols were valid. The second week revealed some reinforcement of the rule by the security forces but for the most part the essential services outlets and residents were left to sort social distancing out among themselves.
During this time, the challenge for authorities appeared rather to be focused on getting people to heed the call for the lockdown itself. Which relatively soon fell into place well enough to elicit praise by deputy mayor Aubrey Tsengwa, who expressed his pleasure with the manner in which Knysna residents responded to the call to stay home. "Some had to go to town to buy groceries while others had to go to the chemist to buy medicine, but 90% of our people listened to the call," he said.
Many Knysna citizens however remained doubtful of social distancing's initial success stating the necessary compliance with such protocols were lacking in Knysna and its outlying suburbs.
Knysna attorney Coenraad de Beer said at the start of the lockdown he saw people violating the 1m distancing rule at random and gathering in groups to socialise as if the lockdown didn't exist, he told KPH. The situation however improved considerably as the lockdown progressed. "I just hope people realise they should keep up the good work and not slacken their awareness in terms of social distancing when we enter level 4," he said this week.
Graphic designer Charlene Harte concurred, saying many people still seem to struggle to adapt their behaviour when seeing familiar faces. "They still have a false sense of security that this is someone else's disease and that we can discard the rules and chat up close,'' she told KPH on Monday. "A lot of people are also uneducated in terms of all the entry paths by which the virus can enter the body. For instance you might be covering your mouth and nose with a mask but your eyes are still exposed if you are not adhering to social distancing."
Ward 10 resident Sharon Dreyer in turn was pleased with her shopping experience as the lockdown progressed. "Town was reasonably quiet and most of the people seemed to be there for food shopping," she said. "People were fairly distanced and all shops had hand sanitiser entering and leaving the store. I think people made a huge effort."
But Hornlee resident and rugby coach Aschin Klein said although he saw law enforcement vehicles patrolling the area "from time to time", he felt some residents didn't grasp the seriousness of the situation. "I still see people walking around, and even though it isn't many people, it's usually the same people who walk past. Usually just youngsters wanting to push their luck."
White Location too has been the scene of a fair amount of activity during lockdown. When visiting the area three weeks into lockdown, KPH noticed lots of people walking up and down Gray Street and gathering in small social groups. According to KPH reporter Tembile Sgqolana, the situation digressed when the lockdown was extended, with people practically going about their business as usual. "When the police come, they disperse for a while but then continue meeting when the authorities are gone,'' he said, adding that he can't see this improving when the lockdown is taken down a notch.
Apart from measures by Knysna Municipality to promote social distancing prior to the lockdown – such as the closure of public facilities from beaches to libraries, the cancellation of public meetings, and promoting the use of its electronic communication platforms – deputy mayor Tsengwa also detailed plans for informal businesses: "We have collated information on our spaza shops," he said. "We are checking if shops are licensed and have the relevant certificate of acceptability and that social distancing is implemented at these premises."
Part of the measures the municipality has put in place included putting up informative posters around the town promoting the practice of social distancing. They have also installed stations where the public are able to sanitise their hands. As far as KPH could establish however, such posters – with a limited focus on social distancing itself – and sanitisation stations, have been limited to Woodmill Lane.
The municipality's public participation section is also "doing their utmost to educate the community", according to Tsengwa. "We continue to loudhail necessary information throughout our informal settlements and will distribute informative flyers to taxis," he said. However, Sgqolana reported there was scant evidence of such initiatives in the areas as stated, whereas municipal spokesperson Christopher Bezuidenhout maintains the municipality has implemented the measures and continues to do so, further stating that its occupational health and safety department will be coordinating screening and testing.
According to Bezuidenhout, walking in town unnecessarily has been condemned in all possible ways, and that this stance will not alter when the partial lockdown kicks in. "The municipality has rallied behind the call of the national and provincial government and advocates that people should stay at home through different communication platforms. Law enforcement officers are deployed to monitor this but it is incumbent on the citizens to act responsibly and abide by the rules and regulations during this period."
Knysna Municipality's law enforcement officers are working tirelessly to enforce the regulations during the lockdown period and beyond, said Bezuidenhout, which include that of social distancing. "It should also be noted that the municipality is supported by other security safety cluster representatives such as the SA Police Service, provincial road law enforcement officers and private security companies," he said, adding that 11 law enforcement officers are deployed in the Greater Knysna Area to ensure that citizens abide by the regulations during the lockdown period.
All police communication regarding Covid-19 has been centralised to national spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo, who was unable to provide the exact details of the police's efforts in level 4 as the "regulations have not been finalised yet". The SANDF also arrived in Knysna at the start of the month, and according to operational spokesperson Navy Captain Jaco Theunissen, they are not in town to act as the front line in enforcing the lockdown [in its various stages]. "We are simply here to assist the police and act under their directive to enforce the laws of the lockdown," he said. "We are the last line of defence."
In SA, confusion still reigns among retailers as they have not been given specific measures to adhere to with regard to the number of customers in-store by the government. According to the Spar group's risk and sustainability executive Kevin O'Brien, there is yet to be any form of clarification over the number of customers allowed in-store. "There's been a lot of confusion for us as well as the public, the government hasn't given us any strict rules to abide by," he said.
This has left retailers unsure of what to do, so they have each put in place their own measures.
After a snap survey among supermarkets in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay it is likely that stores would either retain the measures they already have in place or even bolster them once level 4 is implemented.
Woolworths has implemented a nationwide limit of 50 people in-store including all forms of staff (back room, security, trolley guards too). This leaves room for 10 to 15 customers in their Knysna/Plett stores.
Food Lover's Market Knysna has halved its staff contingent and also now allows only 30 customers into the store at any given time. The Checkers and Shoprite group has put in place a wide range of restrictions for all its stores including no more than 10 customers inside the store at the same time. Checkers in Plettenberg Bay has been increasing measures over the past week using markers outside the store for shoppers to keep their distance from others.
Pick n Pay Sedgefield and Plett have implemented a limit of 50 customers at any given time and Knysna has a limit of 40 customers. The SuperSpar at Knysna Mall allows no more than 50 customers at once, while the East End KwikSpar lets in no more than 20.
The Knysna Spar and Food Lovers Market stores as well as all CX Woolworths and Pick n Pay stores will continue to implement these measures as lockdown enters into level 4.
In Plett, SuperSpar Melville's Corner permits no more than 100 customers at any given time, with Beacon Isle KwikSpar not allowing more than 15. Owner Duncan Brown said from next week they would implement additional measures including making use of a "peg" system where each customer would be given a sanitised peg before entering and once the set number of pegs has been used, no one will be allowed to enter the store unless a customer leaves. Customers' temperatures are also measured before entry is granted.
Dear reader, As your local news provider, we have the duty of keeping you factually informed on Covid-19 developments. As you may have noticed, mis- and disinformation (also known as “fake news”) is circulating online. Group Editors (publications and online platforms) is determined to filter through the masses of information doing the rounds and to separate truth from untruth in order to keep you adequately informed. Local newsrooms follow a strict pre-publication fact-checking protocol. A national task team has been established to assist in bringing you credible news reports on Covid-19.
'We bring you the latest Knysna, Garden Route news'