THE KwaZulu-Natal government is toying with the idea of closing down all beaches during the festive season to combat the spread of rising Covid-19 infections in the province.
The provincial MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Bheki Ntuli said he was in discussions with the KZN MEC for Health Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu about the possibility of closing provincial beaches during the busy festive period.
Ntuli was speaking during a high-level meeting with all heads of law enforcement agencies in the province at the Pietermaritzburg Correctional Services Centre.
Tourism stakeholders warned that if the decision to close KZN beaches during the peak holiday period was approved, it would be devastating for the tourism industry and would lead to massive job losses.
The KZN legislature announced last week that all major events during the festive season would be prohibited as part of plans to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Ntuli said that they were hopeful that KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala would buy into the proposal and consider their thinking.
“If we allow the beaches to operate during this festive season, we are not going to curb the spread of this Covid-19. We believe that if we close them, at least people are not going to die, and we will be saving lives,” said Ntuli.
He acknowledged that tourists flock to the province to enjoy the breeze of the sea.
“However, there is no way that we will allow them. We must begin to prioritise lives instead of joy. They will still get joy after the festive season,” said Ntuli.
Ntuli warned that if beaches were allowed to operate people would get infected and possibly die.
“We are triggering a discussion. We are going to meet with all the mayors from the north of the province to the South Coast,” added Ntuli.
Speaking during the meeting, eThekwini metro police head Steve Middleton, said on Sunday, the beach capacity looked 50% of the capacity of the December 16, which is one of the busiest days of the year.
Middleton said from a Covid-19 perspective, it was absolutely horrendous as people refused to leave the water.
“We managed to remove them at about 1.30am. Effectively speaking, that was in contravention of the Covid-19 regulations in any case,” he said.
He said in making the decision the government should strive to strike a balance between saving lives and reviving the economy of the country.
“As much as we appreciate the proposal, from a policing perspective, it will affect the economy. However, I also want to indicate that the biggest concern about this is the curfew,” added Middleton.
Ntuli said they were mindful of the economic impact of the beach closures, but they were worried that the Durban metro police may not have the capacity to manage the crowds.
“At some point we thought of putting some barricades along the beach that would only allow 50 people within a certain area.
“However, whether metro police would be able to manage them, is another issue,” said Ntuli.
eThekwini municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said there was a need to balance the issue of the economy and the safety of visitors.
“As it is still a proposal, our city leadership will deliberate on the matter fully aware that the directive from the province is that we need to pull all the stops to minimise the spread of the pandemic.
“Under no circumstances shall we disregard the directive of our provincial government,” said Mayisela.
KZN provincial government spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said the premier would address the matter on Friday when he announces the province’s Covid-19 festive season approach.
The Federated Hospitality Association of SA KZN chairperson Brett Tungay, said if Zikalala decided to close beaches, it would be devastating to the tourism industry in KZN.
Tungay said the industry was still struggling to recover from the hard lockdown which resulted in a loss of millions of rand. He said if the beaches were closed, more businesses would be closed down for good and job loses in the industry would be massive.
“This is a main trading season of the year for the tourism industry in Durban, the South Coast and Ballito. If they pull a stupid move like that, it would be devastating. That is just the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Closing the beach would be absolutely nonsensical,” said Tungay.
“The tourism industry is fragile at the moment and something like this is going to push it over the edge.”