Harare – By any measure, COVID-19 is the Grinch threatening to undo the 2020 festive season.
Globally, over 65 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded since late 2019 when the virus surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Such statistics have firmly pushed the world into a new normal.
That means the traditional gatherings of family and friends, and the travelling to familiar as well as ling-dreamt of destinations are all largely on hold this Christmas and New Year’s holiday.
With much of the world battling a second wave of the new coronavirus, and epidemiological modelling experts warning that peak infection figures in this phase could be higher in Africa than last time around in the Southern Hemisphere winter, traditional celebrations are largely off the table.
And yet people could really do with some R&R after a particularly stressful and tragedy-laden year.
In Botswana, the government recently told its citizens that this year’s festive season will be different, and that they are expected to strictly observe the lockdown regulations that are in place.
Botswana Presidential COVID-19 Taskforce National Co-ordinator Dr Kereng Masupu said: “The Presidential COVID-19 taskforce advises the pubic that this year’s festive season will be different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The public is therefore advised to take responsibility by amongst others accepting that this year’s festive season would be different, avoid visiting the elderly as they are at high risk of developing severe symptoms of the virus should they get infected.
“Those visiting loved ones should consider isolating themselves for a period of two weeks prior to travel (if using private car) or once they reach their destination (if they travelled using shared public transport). Avoid visitations to other households to reduce the mixing of households.”
Dr Masupu said observing all laid-down health protocols and regulations would help in the prevention and containment of the virus.
“Most of the COVID-19 cases are in the Greater Gaborone Zone, therefore anyone travelling out of this zone risks spreading the virus while those visiting Gaborone Zone are at risk of contracting COVID-19.”
In South Africa, the second wave is rapidly enveloping the country-the hardest hit on the continent, prompting Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize to officially declare last week that the country had entered the second wave of COVID-19.
This was after a massive 6,079 new COVID-19 cases were reported in 24 hours between last week Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing the total case load in the country to 828,592.
“We are now entering a second wave. It is important for us to highlight that four provinces – Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng – are the key drivers of this new wave,” Dr Mkhize said.
“Since the end of September we had actually seen most of our numbers coming down to as low as 1,000 (per day), but now the numbers are increasing … Today, we have breached the 6 000 mark in terms of new cases. The total new cases identified are 6,079.”
Dr Mkhize said cases were also spiking due to matric year-end parties, and more cases were likely to be recorded during the upcoming festive season.
“In the past few days, the age distribution has also shown a different pattern from the norm. The peak age at this period is now 15 to 19 years of age. This is a new issue and this is what is most worrying. It is believed to be due to a number of large parties with young people drinking alcohol with no adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions.
“We have had a report from KZN where you could see this pattern is much more widespread than previously thought. If this trajectory continues, our healthcare systems will be overwhelmed,” he said.
“Yes, festive season is time for us to relax and enjoy with our families but we now need to understand that we have a responsibility to enjoy with various restraints. If our enjoyment is going to lead to more people getting sick, getting admitted and even some losing lives, it is not a responsible way of enjoying ourselves. We need to prepare for a festive season with a difference.”
In Namibia the government has adopted a cautious approach in opening up the country, to avoid the deadly second wave.
President Hage Geingob in his 20th COVID-19 address on November 30 said a cap on the number of people at public gatherings would remain in force.
“Public gatherings will remain at 200 people, members of the public are strongly encouraged to arrange and host all public gatherings outdoors. Registers of attendees at such gatherings and events must be maintained,” he said.
“(The) sale of alcohol by bars and shebeens remains up to 2200hrs and nightclubs shall be extended to midnight. The businesses must ensure physical distancing, all businesses must be equipped with functional hand sanitiser dispensers at all times.”
Elsewhere in the region, Zimbabwe has had a surge in new infections.
Most worrying, as in South Africa it appears the pandemic is raging in the school-going demographic. More than 300 pupils have been infected over the past month, many of them at boarding schools.
The majority of infections are being recorded in the Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Harare provinces, prompting the government to magnify public warnings and for the polie to increase night-time enforcement of restrictions on the sale of alcohol.