Cabinet mulls mask rule change

A bus with social distancing being observed inside will help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A bus with social distancing being observed inside will help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Image: Putco

Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has taken to cabinet a suggestion to make it illegal to be in public without wearing a face mask.

The suggestion was made by Wits University professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi, a leading health expert who says people's disregard for wearing the mask in public spaces other than shopping mallswas behind the recent spike in Covid-19 cases.

It's against the lockdown regulations not to wear a mask in public, but not illegal, according to the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta).

Madhi said the spike in infections, especially in Gauteng, was due to people not doing what they are requested to.

"What we are seeing is ongoing transmissions of the virus in communities mainly because most people are not doing what they were asked to do, which is wearing the nonsurgical face mask, for example. It would be much more effective to have a regulation that forces people to wear masks."

Cogta minister Dlamini-Zuma's spokesperson Lungi Mtshali said the minister welcomed the suggestion and it would be taken to cabinet for consideration.

The suggestion comes as Gauteng remains a hotspot second only to Western Cape, with Madhi projecting that the worst was still to come.

"In about three to four weeks, Gauteng will probably be where the Western Cape is currently... right now it seems we are not going to cope as people get the virus rapidly."

Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku's spokesperson Kwara Kekana said: "The surge in the number Covid-19 cases is expected and will continue to rise as we head towards the peak period.

"This can be attributed to a number of factors such as increased movement and mobility in Gauteng, among others."

He said certain gatherings, including funerals, have resulted in the spread of Covid-19.

This comes as the Greater Soweto Commuter Forum has labelled the situation at the Pennyville Putco bus transfer area, south of Johannesburg, as a ticking time bomb due to lack of social distancing.

The forum's Wallet Khumalo said the "constant hectic pushing and shoving" which was a daily occurrence was a possible Covid-19 contact point.

"There's always a shortage of buses, and no passenger would allow a bus going to their destination leave them behind while they're unsure if the next bus is coming or not."

Sibongile Lukhele, a bus commuter from Zondi, Soweto, tested positive for Covid-19 over a week ago and is currently self-quarantining at home.

Lukhele told Sowetan although she's not sure where she may have contracted the virus, she couldn't rule out the Pennyville Putco bus depot.

"It's either I got it there or I could have spread it to someone there because we are literally on top of each other as we battle to get into a bus to work every morning," she said.

Witness Mhlongo of Putco said they have been operating at 52% capacity but passengers force themselves onto buses.

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