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Health experts weigh in on the crowds of people seen at Durban’s beaches

Holidaymakers swimming at a Durban beach on Tuesday. Health experts said while there was a lower risk for Covid-19 to spread outdoors, the risk could heighten when the crowds moved indoors to restaurants, hotels and bathrooms. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/ Africa News Agency(ANA)

Holidaymakers swimming at a Durban beach on Tuesday. Health experts said while there was a lower risk for Covid-19 to spread outdoors, the risk could heighten when the crowds moved indoors to restaurants, hotels and bathrooms. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/ Africa News Agency(ANA)

Published Dec 10, 2021

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DURBAN - HEALTH experts have weighed in on the crowds of beachgoers seen at Durban’s beaches this week.

Questions were raised about the crowds seen at the beaches, without masks and with little physical distancing despite the province being in the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Professor Mosa Moshabela, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said yesterday that the beachfront had the potential to increase the risk of viral spread.

“But the situation at the beachfront is more complicated. On the one hand, we don’t expect people to get into the water with their masks on. So they should be able to take off their masks, much like the way people take off their masks in restaurants.

“But, the expectation should be that masks should be kept on when they are not in the water. Everyone walking around the promenade should be wearing a mask. On the other hand, the risk of the virus spreading is reduced in open spaces, and it’s good for people to be out and about instead of meeting indoors. So, in my view, much of the risk may actually be determined by the transportation vehicles people use to get to the beach, as well as crowding in hotels near the beachfront.”

He added that eThekwini Municipality should have a plan to ensure Covid-19 regulations were observed at the beach, and on health services at the beachfront including rapid Covid-19 antigen testing, and lastly measures to limit and control the crowds there.

Public health specialist Dr Atiya Mosam said that given the reports that Omicron was more transmissible than other variants, and that people would be in close proximity to each other in designated swimming areas, there was the potential for infection to spread rapidly.

However, she also noted that outdoor spaces were safer.

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“Therefore the risks associated with multitudes of beachgoers will probably relate more to people accessing spaces adjacent the beach, such as public bathrooms, restaurants, etc, where the ventilation may not be optimal.”

Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, the deputy director of the African Health Research Institute, also commented that the risk of contracting Covid-19 was lower outdoors. But he said mass gatherings without physical distancing, the wearing of masks and regular sanitising were a recipe for disaster.

“The risk is lower outdoors, but there is still residual risk, and it is better to avoid it. The authorities need to enforce the rules to avoid a catastrophe, especially now that lockdowns are not really viable from an economic perspective.”

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Beachgoers who spoke to The Mercury this week had mixed views about Covid19 safety measures at the beach.

Sthembiso Dlamini said that sticking to the Covid-19 regulations at the beach was impractical.

“Wearing a mask in the water is not possible, and social distancing with so many people around you is very difficult.

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So, of course, this is a dangerous set-up, but it is our new reality. People must still be careful,” said Dlamini.

Another beachgoer, Khwezi Thusi, said that the virus was a major disruption to their usual festivities.

“Corona has been a huge disturbance and inconvenience to our lives because we were happier and able to go swimming in large numbers to de-stress, but now people are locked indoors and cannot even enjoy the simple pleasures of the festive season,” he said.

Thusi said he encouraged the wearing of masks, and that people should get vaccinated.

“A mask is not a deterrent from having fun. Of course, it is difficult when you are in the water, but it is generally not something difficult to do.

“Scientists knew exactly what they meant when they said we should wear masks and we should do so diligently, until they tell us we can relax,” Thusi added.

EThekwini Municipality said in a statement this week that more than 2 000 metro police officers would be deployed to guard against anything that threatened the rule of law, and that they would be supported by members of the SAPS.

It said it had also procured the services of private security personnel, and that beach law enforcement officers would conduct regular patrols at all beaches.

It further urged residents and visitors to be vigilant and to observe Covid19 safety protocols strictly, and to get vaccinated.

The municipality reiterated that hands must be washed or sanitised regularly, and an adequate social distance must be maintained at all times. The wearing of masks remained mandatory.

THE MERCURY

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