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Surprise, jubilation, anxiety and fear as people face reality of mask rule being lifted

23 June 2022 - 13:38 By Shonisani Tshikalange and PHATHU LUVHENGO
Astoa Taxi Association supervisor Solly Semadi is still advising commuters to mask up for their own safety and that of drivers.
Astoa Taxi Association supervisor Solly Semadi is still advising commuters to mask up for their own safety and that of drivers.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

Surprise, jubilation, anxiety and fear.

These were some of the emotions encountered on the streets and pavements as morning commuters got to grips with the sudden scrapping of what became a deeply ingrained habit of everyday life for more than two years — wearing a face mask in public because of Covid-19.

Many people canvassed on the streets of Johannesburg and Tshwane were unaware that health minister Dr Joe Phaahla had signed off on aGovernment Gazette just hours earlier that repealed some of the last remaining Covid-19 regulations.

Rosebank restaurant manager Andries Ncube was among those caught by surprise when he arrived at work.

“Even our customers didn't know. We had to explain to them why we were not wearing masks. For me my concern is that they [government] should have changed the rule in August, not now in June when there is a lot of flu,” he said.

“I am wearing mine because I am feeling cold,” said Thabo Ndambi at the Gautrain station in Rosebank. “I heard on the news there is no need for us to wear masks in public, but [as a] precautionary measure, I think we still need to wear a mask.

“It's been long overdue, but I think it will take time for us to drop it completely because it has become part of our life. We have been wearing it for two years. They mustn't just drop masks only. They must also open stadiums.”

Street hawker Mariko Wiunz from Malawi was wearing his mask and initially expressed uncertainty over the change, but warmed to the idea.

“I don't see a problem while going around and interacting with people without a mask. We had to wear it as the government was forcing us, but now I don't think we need to. We have been exposed to Covid-19 for a while now,” he said.

Most people at the Nkomo Village mall wore masks while going about their shopping. Shops were still implementing the “no mask, no entry” rule and sanitising protocol.

A popular fast food restaurant manager, who did not want to be named, said they would retain the mask rule — for now.

“For our safety we should continue wearing masks because it's not like Covid-19 is gone, it's just that they can now manage it. I prefer the masks, we work with so many people. [Saturday] is the 25th, payday, a lot of people will be coming in here. If people are not responsible since its flu season, it will also affect our business as we will sometimes find ourselves short-staffed,” she said.

Staff were yet to receive communication from head office on the next step.

Astoa Taxi Association supervisor Solly Semadi said they were advising commuters to mask up for their own safety and that of the drivers.

“On the streets I don't see a problem, but when you go where there are people you should wear a mask. I don't see why they dropped the mask now, they should have waited for spring season. I still recommend passengers to wear masks so they can protect their health and that of the drivers. It's winter and flu season.”

Semadi believed people going into shops should keep wearing masks. Some taxi passengers were reluctant to cover their nose and mouth, “but most don't have a problem, it's only a few who will say they have forgotten”.

“Dropping masks now doesn't have any impact. People didn't wear masks in taverns and buses and at home. If it didn't cause any harm there, why not? Covid-19 has been with us for the past two years — the more people are exposed to it, the better,” said Sello Nkopane from Johannesburg while on his way to work — with his mask on.

Norman Mbonisi, manager of a petrol station in Atteridgeville, said it was difficult to breathe with a mask. “Most people don't like masks, even myself. If it's announced, there is nothing we can do ... Some people are complaining about it, that it caused flu because it gathers bacteria,” he said.

Unmasking would likely help in the fight against crime. “If a customer has a mask on it is very difficult to identify them if they steal, so without a mask that will be easy.”

Though he was happy about the rule being scrapped, it was up to each employee to choose their preference.

Petrol attendants were wearing masks and customers entering the garage shop also wore masks and sanitised.

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