Feverish speculation on the possibility of a new lockdown is compounding the impact of foreign government travel restrictions and holiday booking cancellations on the tourism and hospitality industry.
This was the word from Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA) CEO Wendy Alberts who on Friday called on the government to urgently pay compensation for the jobs that have been lost, the businesses that have closed and the damage that the hard lockdowns have caused to the economy.
“Government needs to take accountability and stop absconding their responsibility to protect the economy and have prepared the healthcare industry to avoid further lockdowns – that was the reason for lockdown some two years ago,” Alberts said,
She said the sector had played its part in supporting all the health directives and protocols including taking temperatures, wearing of face masks, sanitising, and social distancing.
“We have increased outdoor capacity, brought education, initiated vaccination drives and remodelled our restaurants. We have an A plus for ensuring health and safety of our staff and patrons are always of our highest priority,” Alberts said.
“The reason for lock down was to prepare the health care system and to ensure sufficient beds were available. They closed the field hospitals and have not reopened them through any wave,” Alberts said.
She said the dialogue needed to shift from “pure reactive panicking to reactive planning and learning to keep the economy open” and to live with a disease that was not going anywhere soon.
“The President needs to lead and give clarity on its position on vaccine mandates and passports and to do everything possible limit the damage, or another threat of a hard lockdown,” she said.
She said the alarming rate of increase in the number of Covid-19 infections in the brief period since the detection of the Omicron variant has been accompanied by mounting speculation that the government will impose a new lockdown.
Holiday bookings at risk due to lockdown fears
“This is causing thousands of South Africans to rethink or cancel their plans for the upcoming holidays, opening up the illicit trade to benefit off the possible restrictions,” Alberts said.
“This is all coming off on top of international travel restrictions and bans imposed by numerous foreign governments for travellers returning from our region. This is having a devastating effect on the tourism and hospitality industry, as bookings are cancelled daily.
“The economic cost of lockdowns, and especially their impact on our sector, has been horrific, and this is evidenced by the record unemployment rate of 34.9%,” Alberts said.
“Despite having experienced some of the harshest measures in the world, we have suffered one of the highest mortality rates from Covid-19,” she said.
“Talk of further lockdown restrictions is utterly misplaced in the context of the economic and jobs bloodbath that previous measures have caused, and the fact that hospitals are not yet under significant pressure,” Alberts said.
“We appeal to the president to not impose lockdowns on the South African economy and to win the hearts of fellow South Africans by protecting the economy employment our people and our beautiful country,” she said.