Lockdown rules interpreted differently by Bay residents

GHOST TOWN: Some of the streets of Port Elizabeth were deserted on the first day of the national 21-day lockdown
GHOST TOWN: Some of the streets of Port Elizabeth were deserted on the first day of the national 21-day lockdown
Image: Werner Hills

A tale of totally different experiences and choices unfolded in Nelson Mandela Bay on the first day of the national lockdown, with some residents adhering to restrictions, others flouting them and some left with no choice at all.

South Africans woke up under lockdown on Friday, struggling to adapt to some of the toughest restrictions in the world as the country recorded its first confirmed coronavirus death and as cases rose to 1,170.

The 21-day lockdown came into force at midnight on Thursday.

It confines people to their homes for most activities, including exercise, only permitting trips outside for specific purposes like buying food or for health emergencies.

And for the most part, residents in the Bay’s western and central suburbs heeded President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to stay indoors, but in the metro’s townships and northern areas not everyone was as eager to obey the government’s instructions.

At Cleary Park shopping mall, hundreds of people formed long queues at three of the centre’s entrances to get much-needed supplies for the weeks ahead, while others in the nearby areas took to the streets in apparent defiance of the lockdown restrictions.

At the Boxer Superstores in Sidwell, police used stun grenades to disperse a crowd of more than 100 people who failed to adhere to instructions to disperse. Afterwards, business at the centre continued as usual.

Police in the townships said many residents were not heeding officials’ calls to protect themselves against the virus by staying on their properties.

“People are drinking and carrying on as usual in several townships here. They are not taking it seriously,” one official said.

Despite some streets being packed with people, police  had made no arrests by late morning.

But they did hold roadblocks in some streets, checking  taxi operators’ licences and ensuring they were not overloaded.

Several drivers were stopped across the metro and given warnings and fines for overloading.

At some checkpoints across the city, private motorists  and passengers were asked to produce letters confirming that they worked for essential  services and were thus entitled to travel during the lockdown.

The Herald’s reporters did not witness any SANDF troops in the streets.

In Zwide, Amanda Mseleni and Phumeza Buzwa said people were still getting in taxis in Njoli and travelling to Komani.

They said no traffic officers  were checking private cars that operated as cabs in the area.

Resident Ncumisa Mooi said: “People are walking up and down in the streets in Zwide — there is no social distancing and if anyone had the virus we would all be affected.” 

Gerald Mintoor, 37, of Cleary Park, said he had been standing in the queue at Cleary Park Mall since 7am to shop for necessities.

The father of two young children aged five and seven told Weekend Post he had no choice but to go to the mall in the morning because he was unable to do so during the week.

While the mall was teeming with people, in other parts of the northern areas small groups of people stood around in the  streets, seemingly flouting the restrictions.

A 28-year-old woman walking along Beetlestone Road in Gelvandale said while she understood why the restrictions were in place she did not agree with people not being allowed in the streets.

“I need to get to the shops to get food for me and my children. How can I do that if I can’t leave my house?” the woman, who declined to give her name, said.

In Linton Grange, a relatively small group of people gathered at the parking lot of the local Pick n Pay to collect water from a tanker after areas such as Westering, Kabega Park and Cotswold had been without water since Thursday.

Westering resident Candice Scholtz, 36, said she was extremely frustrated as it was the first day of the 21-day lockdown and nobody knew exactly what to expect.

“What makes me worry more is because of the virus we need to be washing hands and cleanliness is at the top of the list but how can we do that without water?” Scholtz said.

In the morning, provincial police commissioner Lt-Gen Liziwe Ntshinga sent a voice note to her police management stating that the Eastern Cape border was shut down and no access should be allowed.

A range of questions sent to Ntshinga’s spokesperson, Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana, remains unanswered.

In Johannesburg, with shops, restaurants and offices shuttered, streets in more affluent parts of  the city appeared quieter than usual.

But large crowds continued to gather in Alexandra, adjoining Sandton, and other poor townships, where cramped conditions militate against social distancing and offer a rich breeding ground for the virus among people reliant on an ailing public health system.

Many are also too poor to weather the economic fallout the epidemic is causing.

“I don’t have money, now I am thinking what should I do? Because of this I will be stuck in the house with my babies and everyone and my wife,” street vendor Godfrey Thula said  in central Johannesburg.

The country’s first death from the virus occurred in the Western Cape, while total cases rose to 1,170, from 927 on Thursday, the health ministry said.

A second person had also died in the Western Cape, but Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said on Friday night that the link between the second case  and Covid-19 had not yet been confirmed.

Ramaphosa, who took a virus test that came back negative on Wednesday, has been praised for ordering some of the toughest measures on the continent, including calling out the army to enforce the lockdown and criminalising the deliberate spreading of false information.

— Additional reporting Reuters

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