JOHANNESBURG (AP) – The hospitality and events industries in South Africa have received a significant boost as the government relaxes strict COVID-19 regulations that have prevented more than 50 people from being accommodated in restaurants and public events since June.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would switch to a level 2 COVID restriction alert starting Monday, which will allow at least 250 people for outdoor events and 500 people for outdoor events.
Trading hours have also been extended by one hour from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., while retail stores that were previously restricted to selling liquor Monday through Thursday can now sell liquor on Fridays.
The industry is among the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 restrictions put in place by the government to stem the surge in COVID-19 infections that have so far fueled the deadly third wave of the virus.
According to an internal survey by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa), more than 1,100 restaurants have closed due to lockdown restrictions during the country’s third wave of COVID-19 infections.
“These were the most complex and challenging times for the hospitality industry in the last 18 months. We are trading with a potential of around 25% at 100% of the debt. We are drowning in letters of claim, we are drowning in debt and our industry is broke, ”said Wendy Alberts, managing director of Rasa.
She said that most restaurants had up to 70% of their employees on unpaid layoffs and that the increased trading hours would help restaurants start bringing them back.
The harsh trading conditions not only hit property owners, waiters, cooks and bartenders directly, but also other role-players in the industry such as artists, performers and event organizers.
Ayza Kutsch, who organizes Black Labone’s weekly live performance events in the capital, Pretoria, said the recent easing of restrictions would allow more artists to earn an income.
The event usually draws over 450 people a week, but it has been temporarily closed during strict lockdown restrictions as it ran with only 50 people at a loss.
“Moving to Level 2 is an improvement as we struggled with the restrictions imposed on us. We usually plan our programs a month in advance, but it was difficult with the changes to the lockdown rules, ”said Kutsch.
South Africa, responsible for more than 35% of COVID-19 infections in Africa with 2.8 million confirmed cases, including 84,327 deaths, and has recently battled a resurgence of the Delta variant.
South Africa has recorded 3,961 new infections and 126 deaths in the past 24 hours.
More than 7 million people have been fully vaccinated with either the one-time Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in two doses.
South Africa currently offers vaccines to all adults aged 18 and over as it plans to vaccinate at least 40 million people of its 60 million population by the end of the year but is struggling to meet its target of 300,000 daily vaccinations.