While the national lockdown will be relaxed from level 5 to level 4 on Friday, there is a campaign to completely shut down Port St Johns — the epicentre of the coronavirus in the OR Tambo region.
By Monday afternoon, the small coastal town had accounted for 46 of the 48 Covid-19 cases in the region, which includes Mthatha, Libode, Lusikisiki, Tsolo and Qumbu.
All 46 cases stem from the March 21 funeral in Majola village.
Port St Johns residents now fear with the easing of the lockdown, people who might have the virus might spread it to the rest of SA as they will be able to go back to their respective workplaces.
The Majola funeral is the same funeral attended by correctional services officials from East London prison who later tested positive for the virus.
Resident Zimasa Mancotywa started an online campaign which she hopes will convince premier Oscar Mabuyane to shut down the town once there are hundreds of signatures.
The online petition was created on Saturday, and by midday on Monday, 448 people had signed it.
Numerous attempts to reach Mancotywa were unsuccessful on Monday.
However, in her online petition to Mabuyane, she wrote: “We are calling for total shutdown of PSJ’s town due to the coronavirus being widespread across town and its surroundings.
“The town is under tremendous threat as no social distancing is being practised and contravention of national disaster regulations seems to be prevalent at all times.”
While Mancotywa wants PSJ to be shut down, Mabuyane said a decision on
whether the province should remain on level 5 would be made on Wednesday.
But Mabuyane expressed concern over the competing objectives of curbing transmission and reopening the economies in especially Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay metros.
“Our biggest challenges are in these two metros. It will be difficult to keep the lockdown at level 5.
“We have to think very hard about reviewing level 5, otherwise we will be risking, even self-defeating what we are doing.”
The metros have the highest numbers of Covid-19 infected people.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people went online to support the petition to shut down PSJ.
Asonele Teyise said she signed the petition “because all the efforts of government trying to flatten the curve of the spread of this pandemic will be in vain if PSJ continues operating.
“That is because people do not want to comply with the rules of the lockdown. That small town needs to be closed urgently.”
PSJ mayor Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo recently called for the complete shutdown of the town from Friday to Sunday before she backtracked.
“I spoke to businesses, taxi associations and people in general, making a humble plea that we should consider closing town on that weekend.
“However, I received a lot of backlash and was lambasted for suggesting such, with people saying I did not possess such authority to order the town’s closure.
“They said I was taking the law into my own hands while such prerogative to close town only rested with President [Cyril] Ramaphosa.
“But the reality is that we have a small town with limited shops, while we have 20 rural wards with thousands of villagers who many times do not adhere to lockdown regulations.”
Mlombile-Cingo called for mass screening and testing in all wards, saying the full picture of infections might be much bigger.
She further called for health practitioners to be brought to the small town, “before hell breaks loose”.
PSJ chamber of business chair Ndzamela Ncoyini on Monday supported calls for the complete isolation of people in the Majola villages, but not the closure of central business district.
He said closure of the CBD would not be ideal.
“Hence we feel that all our energies should be channelled towards where the fire is burning, at Majola villages”.
He called for all entry and exit points to Majola villages to be closed and for villagers to be isolated, screened and treated in their area, saying failure to do so would lead to widespread transmission of the virus.
“PSJ will affect the entire province if the Majola situation is not contained.
“As regulations are eased, mines in Gauteng will open, and people will go back to work in East London, moving with the virus from here.”
Mabuyane said the cabinet would receive an updated analysis from the Eastern Cape on Wednesday on whether to move the lockdown from level 5 to 4.
But the premier said the compulsory wearing of cloth masks “would allow some flexibility to review the levels. If you have people wearing masks, then maybe you can consider having people moving around.”
BY:ASANDA NINI and RAY HARTLE