Since March 2020, South Africans have had to comply with various Covid-19 restrictions implemented by the government to contain the spread of the virus.
To this end, businesses have dealt with limitations on capacity and their operational hours, while patrons must meet face mask and sanitisation requirements. Since the reopening of alcohol sales, it would appear that these restrictions have become less important to hospitality businesses.
The over-crowded bars and restaurants indicate that people seem to have forgotten that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. To avoid another hard lockdown under which businesses will be completely shut and alcohol sales prohibited, South Africa needs stricter Covid-19 compliance enforcement measures.
Current attitude: casual non-compliance
It’s a Friday night, and the restaurants and bars are all pumping. Face masks are few and far between, and social distancing is non-existent despite Covid-19 State of Disaster regulations. A few of the compliance regulations for restaurants and bars include halved capacities and a mandated distance of 1.5 meters between table and patrons to name a few.
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There are rumours of nightclubs putting a table and two chairs on the dance floor to masquerade as restaurants and continuing business as usual. Non-compliance seems blatant, which is extremely frustrating for those responsible businesses and citizens who make every effort to comply with pandemic restrictions.
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Adding to the frustration is the fact that concerned citizens have no means to report non-compliance to the authorities because there is no national hotline to dial. Even more infuriating for those staying home is the complete lack of Covid compliance shown on social media – people attending super-spreader events without a mask in sight.
What can be done about non-compliance?
Businesses that fail to comply with Covid restrictions can be charged with breaking the Disaster Management Act. Unfortunately, the fine associated with contravening the Act is nominal and will need to be reassessed and increased to have a deterrent effect. In addition to an increased punitive fine where non-compliance is related to the sale of alcohol, the establishment in question should have their liquor license revoked or suspended. This would have a further deterrent effect, and when combined with the possibility of an increased fine, would bring Covid compliance in the hospitality and retail industries under control.
Yet there is a lot more that can be done to deter non-compliance. Businesses outside of the hospitality industry that fail to enforce Covid-19 regulations can be reported (by workers or members of the public) to labour department inspectors and at labour centres around the country. Such failure to comply with Covid health and safety protocols can result in the business being shut down or taken to labour court.
For minor transgressions, companies will receive an improvement notice, which is effectively a warning. If this notice is not adhered to, a prohibition notice will be issued, and the business will not be able to operate unless the specific transgressions have been addressed. Failure to comply with a prohibition notice will result in a contravention notice which will require the business owner to then appear before a labour court.
Cracking down on non-compliance
In order to avoid a third wave or another hard lockdown, compliance with Covid health and safety protocols – particularly around the sale and consumption of alcohol – needs to remain top of mind for every business and every citizen. A national hotline for reporting businesses that contravene Covid regulations is necessary to give concerned citizens a centralised touchpoint.
Fines for contravening regulations need to be heftier, both from a financial perspective and an ability to operate. Businesses that risk their liquor license or their ability to trade will be more likely to enforce compliance. With the virus showing no signs of disappearing and so much uncertainty surrounding the vaccine, it is critical to get compliance back under control as quickly as possible.