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Covid-19: Parties

Pub-goers let their hair down — and their guard as lockdown restrictions ease

Relief and risk as the socially starved go out on the town

Not many masks in sight as patrons throng the bar at a pub in Melville, Johannesburg, after level 2 kicked in.
Not many masks in sight as patrons throng the bar at a pub in Melville, Johannesburg, after level 2 kicked in.
Image: Alaister Russell

After months of being starved of socialising over a meal or drink, many South Africans have shed their inhibitions — and masks — and have been partying up a storm since lockdown level 2 kicked in two weeks ago.

Scenes from many night spots, pubs and restaurants in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal show patrons disregarding social distancing norms and some establishments ignoring the drinks curfew despite concern over a possible second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Videos on social media shot in Chartwell Drive in Umhlanga Rocks, known for its wall-to-wall restaurants, this week show patrons, without masks, partying on the street while waiting in line to enter eateries.

At one pub in Durban’s Glenwood district, patrons were seen hugging each other and some tables didn’t comply with the 2m distancing requirement.

Friends Kuthula Mthembu and Kwanele Mseleku joined others at a pub on Tuesday for their first social drink since March.

Outings with family and friends are back on the menu in Durban.
Outings with family and friends are back on the menu in Durban.
Image: Thuli Dlamini

“I am afraid of passing on the infection to loved ones whose immune system is a tad more volatile than mine,” said Mseleku.

"But as long as I’m following social distancing precautions, for the most part I’m doing enough. But we also can’t stop living our lives because of Covid-19.”

While the pub closed at 10pm, patrons who had not finished their drinks were given bags to take them away in.

KwaZulu-Natal Liquor Authority spokesperson Vuyani Dimba said if the pub had an on-consumption licence, this would be a contravention of the law. “Such acts or practices are unlawful and punishable, and we encourage the public to report this and any other noncompliance,” said Dimba.

In Johannesburg, at both Jojo Rooftop Lounge in Maboneng and Rockets in Bryanston, tables were correctly distanced and only mask-wearing patrons were allowed in after screening.

Sean Barber, founder and CEO of the Rockets Group, said the group’s outlets were compliant with the regulations but found it difficult to enforce mask wearing.

“We get questions like ‘How do I drink or smoke with a mask?’ People say: ‘My social distance inside your establishment is my responsibility.’ ”

He said Rockets didn’t have a mandate “to micromanage a person’s personal space”.

Actor Damian Ngema, who spent last weekend bar-hopping in Greenside and Orlando West, said people started off following protocols but observance fell by the wayside as the night wore on.

“It’s as if these last five months was just a dream,” Ngema said. “There was a great vibe. The fact that you’re here with people that you’re familiar with, you think it’s OK if you get it [Covid]. You know there’s a killer virus but you don’t mind.”

Restaurant Association of SA CEO Wendy Alberts acknowledged that some patrons and establishments were flouting regulations. “We are encouraging restaurants to always ensure there is compliance,” she said.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, head of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, said: “We know pubs in the UK have been points of high transmission. Where people are drinking there will be little mask wearing. Our only hope is that they will practise proper social distancing and hand hygiene.”

• Additional reporting by Orrin Singh and Lwandile Bhengu 


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