‘As much as we fear the virus, we’re still human’
President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the country to follow central tenets of Covid-19 prevention – social distancing, hand sanitizing and proper face mask use – during the new phase of the Covid-19 lockdown. Some have taken these words to heart, whilst others struggle to acclimatise to the new normal.
South Africa woke up to the first day of level three of lockdown on Monday morning, with busier roads and transport hubs, as most of the economy re-opened under level three lockdown regulations.
The entire economy was virtually shut down to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, and the government referred to it as “buying time for the public health system to ready itself for an influx of patients.”
The country has been urged to continue with handwashing, social distancing and wearing fabric face masks when out in public. Health-e News correspondents have been out and about, and found that social distancing was one Covid-19 prevention measure South Africans struggled with.
At the Randburg Taxi Rank, commuters wore face masks and made use of the hand sanitizers provided but social distancing was not practiced according to government guidelines.
Commuters stood less than a meter apart while queuing, and Lerato Maeneja, a commuter Health-e News spoke to, said social distancing has not often been practised, although she does her best to.
“I don’t think social distancing will be practiced in level three of the lockdown because it wasn’t even practised in level four,” said Maeneja.
In Atteridgeville, Pretoria, Health-e News heard commuters complain that taxi drivers keep sanitizers as a “decoration”. They claim that instead of giving the sanitizers to passengers, drivers make sure that they just carry enough to satisfy police that they are following the rules.
“When the metro police officers ask whether passengers have been sanitized the passengers all agree, because they are told by the taxi driver to lie,” said Lerato Mawash.
But taxi driver Katlego Motlafatshe said passengers flouted lockdown regulations too, and urged commuters to “take responsibility and wear their mask in the taxi.”
“They should know that these masks are not meant for decoration but to save their lives.”
In Itsoseng, North West, the situation was markedly different, with commuters following social distancing protocols, and being “extra cautious”.
Queues snaked along Itsoseng Taxi Rank, as people observing social distancing rules, and taxi drivers, queue marshalls and commuters were sanitizing and using cloth face masks.
The only concern was that there were not enough taxis.
Kgomotso Molefe, a Shoprite cashier who commutes to Lichtenburg daily, says that although she follows the rules, she worries that using public transport and her job increases her chances of contracting Covid-19.
“When I am at work or travelling, I’m extra cautious. However, I do have a constant fear
that I might contract the virus while I am using public transport or assisting customers at work,” she said.
Tshepo Kgaje, a taxi driver, noted that the transport sector poses a major health risk, and that following safety and hygiene protocols in this sector is, therefore, important.
“We have to be cautious because we are transporting different people daily and handling money. It is important for us to frequently sanitise our hands, and wear face-masks.”
He adds that he is waiting to be able to carry a maximum load so that he can earn a decent living.
Vincent Kgosiemang is a queue marshal at Itsoseng Taxi Rank. He explained to Health-e News that, since the Covid-19 outbreak, he was trained to deal with passengers by local transport officials.
“I don’t allow anybody to get into the taxi unless they are wearing a face mask and their hands have been sanitized. Life is not the same because we have a lower number of people who are travelling. My commission has also dipped because taxis are not being filled to capacity,” says Kgosiemang.
Potchefstroom Taxi Rank saw less adherence to Covid-19 prevention measures.
Pule Mahlatsi, a taxi driver in the area said people were not practising social distancing, but that in the rank social distancing “is out of their control” as taxi drivers.
“We as the taxi industry have done our best to ensure safety measures are in place. We spray our taxis regularly with sanitizer, we don’t allow commuters to get on our taxis without face masks but we can’t tell people not to get close to each other. We only carry seven passengers in our 16–seater taxis – so in our taxis there is social distancing, but at the rank it’s beyond our control,” said Mahlatsi.
He added that some taxi drivers don’t practise social distancing either, with many congregating in groups during the day because they feel “safe with each other.”
“The funny part is that people think the virus is picky, because we as taxi drivers will put on masks when driving and sanitize our hands but during the day we sit and eat together. In some cases, we drink from the same cup and this is because we assume that since we’re used to each other, we are safe with each other. We think it’s only passengers who can bring the virus – so, social distancing is a huge issue.”
Vuyani Xaba, an Ikageng resident who works at a grocery store in Potchefstroom, explained that it’s difficult for commuters to practise social distancing when life seems normal. Xaba says he has been working his usual hours – maintaining his work habits and routines.
“For some of us, life is normal with the same working conditions and same working hours, so it’s hard for us not to speak to the person you see five times a week. As much as we fear the virus, we are still humans, there’s always that need to talk to someone you know, sometimes in groups because you don’t want to be rude. It’s human to talk to someone you know when you meet them,” he said.
Marvin Moshole from Motupa, outside Tzaneen, stated that taxi drivers only check for face masks, which places them at high risk to contract the virus.
“Whenever I take a taxi to town, they don’t sanitize our hands. We only get in, and the driver doesn’t observe social distancing. Even taxi patrol doesn’t take a measure to stop taxis to see whether the passengers are sanitized and maintained social distancing,” said Moshole.
Modjadji Machetele from Monyela also reiterated that social distancing be maintained, and suggested that passengers have their own sanitizer on hand.
“There’s no social distancing and no sanitizers on board. I think we should be provided with sanitizers on each trip, or rather, any passenger should present their own sanitizer before boarding a taxi,” said Machetele. – Health-e News