'Vaccination is critical now': Western Cape government 'devastated' over the travel bans

Call for emergency financial support package for affected sectors

Passengers waiting for flights at Cape Town International airport after their flights were cancelled on Saturday. SA is one of the countries on the red list due to concerns over a new Covid-19 variant.
Passengers waiting for flights at Cape Town International airport after their flights were cancelled on Saturday. SA is one of the countries on the red list due to concerns over a new Covid-19 variant.
Image: Esa Alexander

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said the extensive travel bans on SA were “extremely distressing” and will be devastating for the provincial economy.

The Western Cape government announced on Sunday it remained on high alert after the announcement of the new Omicron variant, and that it would be assisting stranded passengers at Cape Town International Airport, after the cancellation of several flights out of the country.

“We have excellent surveillance systems in place in the province, and we are closely monitoring all our metrics to ensure that we remain prepared,” Winde said.

“However, what is clear is that there are still many unknowns on how this new variant will affect the pandemic, and that is why we urge the public to remain calm while increasing their vigilance during this time. We also urge our scientists to find the answers we need as quickly as possible.”

He said the extensive travel bans on SA would be devastating for the provincial economy, which is reliant on international visitors during the peak holiday season.

“This has been a hammer blow to our major job-creating sector in the province precisely when we needed a recovery, to claw back jobs lost over the last 19 months.

“This is extremely distressing to me, especially because the WHO [World Health Organisation] has made it clear that travel bans are not an effective response. Our economy needs help urgently and that is why I call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce an emergency financial support package for this sector so that we save jobs.”

In a statement on Sunday, the Western Cape government said it was guided by its position that a balance is needed when responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring that both lives and livelihoods are saved.

Winde said he had maintained the need to save both lives and jobs at the national coronavirus command council on Saturday.

“We must not add to this crisis, by giving effect to a worsening jobs and humanitarian crisis that will undoubtedly cost lives too.

“We must be guided by expert advice and sound data, and we must always ask ourselves how any proposed action will affect our poorest residents who need jobs to be able to put food on the table for their families.”

After the cancellation of numerous flights out of the country, the Western Cape government said they were assisting stranded passengers at the Airport.

Western Cape minister of finance and economic opportunities, David Maynier, expressed his dismay over the travel bans.

“We are devastated that, at the very moment recovery was kicking in, we have been hit by a new variant which has turned things upside down and which is a major setback for our tourism and hospitality sector in the Western Cape.

“In response, I have convened daily co-ordination meetings with our partners, including my department, Acsa [Airports Company SA], and Wesgro [Cape Town and Western Cape Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency]. We have been working around the clock to assist passengers who have been stranded by providing access to transport and accommodation, and by liaising with consulates to assist where necessary.

“We want these tourists to come back again soon and so making sure they get all the help they need during this stressful time is important to us.”

The Western Cape government said it has been in regular contact with the consular corps and will convene meetings with business to provide updates on latest developments.

“During this time of uncertainty, our economy needs as much information as possible so the best possible decisions can be made based on reliable and accurate information. That is why I will also convene meetings with business so that we can share what we know and so that we can find out how we can help them during this time,” Maynier said.

The provincial government has detailed plans in place for the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, based on learning from the first three waves.

Provincial health minister Dr Nomafrench Mbombo said the province is confident the existing strategies adapted over the last three waves continue to be the correct approach even in face of a new variant.

“As we learn more, we will adjust our plans as necessary based on predetermined triggers of the projected hospital capacity needed. We remain committed to ensuring that no person in this province will suffer the indignity of not having a hospital bed when they need it.”

“Leading scientists worldwide have been clear that vaccination is critical now. It will prevent severe illness, which may lead to you ending up in ICU and dying. While we are leading in vaccinations among adults countrywide, we need many more people to vaccinate especially in high-risk groups.

“I, therefore, encourage our residents to take up this opportunity as soon as possible, especially if they are over 50 years old, or if they have comorbidities.

“We have hundreds of sites across the province, and it has never been quicker and easier to get vaccinated. Just walk in and you should be done within 30 minutes.”

Head of health in the Western Cape Dr Keith Cloete said: “We must also remember to protect our airspace by wearing a mask, especially when indoors, by ensuring good ventilation in our homes and workspaces, by avoiding crowded places and confined spaces, and by ensuring that we gather outdoors wherever possible.”

The Western Cape government says it will continue to keep the public up to date with the latest developments so that they have the information they need to act.

Winde concluded: “Throughout this pandemic, we have committed to being as transparent as possible so that residents know what is happening and what role they can play to help during this time. I personally want to appeal to every person in the Western Cape to go and get vaccinated as soon as possible. It’s never been more urgent than it is now.”

The provincial government advises travellers to check their flight status before going to the airport and to liaise with their consulate to find out what assistance is available.

Wesgro has also set up a dedicated FAQ page on the website, which can be of assistance.

TimesLIVE


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.