In recent weeks, we have heard a lot about Australia and New Zealand, (and of course South Korea). About how well they are doing? How they have smashed the pandemic. That is very pleasing news. But what slightly frustrates me is that the European and American media are not talking about Africa at all. And if they do, it is to cast a pall of doom and gloom.
But most of our destinations have only a handful of cases and some of them (such as Botswana, Rwanda etc) have done a fair amount of testing as well.
So today I want to blow a small trumpet for, what I consider to be, the well-thought out approach of the South African Government. Indeed we are now all grumbling about how lockdown we actually are, alongside with many people in other countries
So far – a recent history lesson
South Africa had no cases at all until early March. Then returning South Africans who had been in Europe or the USA on holiday or on business, started testing positive.
However by then, the awareness was there. And so those returning people mostly went into self-isolation on their return. But of course a few slipped through the cracks. Pretty soon South Africa decided to ban visitors from key affected overseas markets such as Europe, USA and China. This ban came into effect on Wednesday 18th March. This ban was in place before anyone had died from Covid 19. At the same time many other countries decided to impose travel bans on their own citizens.
However there were still plenty of visitors in the country already, enjoying our summer weather, superb scenery and of course the wildlife. However some of our clients had to cut short their trips and fly home early.
So by Monday 23rd March, the SA Government announced the country was going into lock-down and this started on Thursday 27th March (6 weeks ago ). All international clients needed to leave prior to this time. I gather that some didnt heed the warning and were “trapped”. But again, the country had a plan. All visitors needed to be quanrantined in a hotel for 14 days. However to all intents and purposes, this was the same as the lock-down scenario for the rest of the country. And some of the hotels participating in the scheme were of a high quality (4 and 5 star) and I gather the staff really made the guests feel as welcome as possible.
From this to this…
We have had one of the strictest lock-downs in the world. (We could even give China a run for their money on that front). Initially everyone had to keep to their homes except for buying food or medicine. Alcohol and cigarette sales are still prohibited, because of their negative effect on outcomes if someone gets Covid19. We have not been allowed to exercise outside until very recently.
As you can imagine, this had a severe economic impact on the country, as it has had everywhere. But it indicates how seriously we have taken it.
It has been somewhat surreal as most of the country has very few cases of Covid19. In our own area, there is not a single case of Covid19 after 6 weeks of lock-down.
Now we have entered into Stage 4, a phased relaxation of the lock-down rules going from Stage 5 (the initial phase) which started on 1st May. This will continue gradually to Stage 1. Stage 4 is still pretty strict. Still no alcohol and no cigarettes which has cause a fair amount of moaning as you can imagine. But now people are able to go into an office to work (if there are strict protocols in place.) And people can exercise outdoors between 6am (pitch dark) and 9am. This seems curious as it means that people are mingling much more than they would be if it were spread out. So it means counter to social distancing.
There is a curious inconsistency to the “rules”, as seems common with other parts of the world. You can buy some forms of winter clothing, but not in all colours. You can buy one shirt in a shop but not another very similar-looking one.
Initially we saw a rapid increase in cases as we saw the effects of the pre-lockdown situation work through the system. However then they started to stabilize as the chart shows below.
Yes our number of cases continue to rise, but at a much steadier rate than before.
So how are we doing?
As of today (8h May) we have just over 8,000 cases of Covid19 (so only 2.8% of all those tested have been found to be positive. And unfortunately we have 175 deaths.
If you look at the key statistics, South Africa seems to have a very similar profile to Australia (and New Zealand which we also looked at.)
|15th May||South Africa||USA||UK||Australia*|
|No of Tests Done||386,352||10,269,996||2,094,209||938,044|
|No of Cases||12,074||1,430,348||229,705||6,989|
|Cases per Million of Pop||205||6,139||3,646||280|
|Ratio of Cases to Tests||3%||14%||11%||1%|
|Number of Deaths||208||85,197||33,186||98|
|% of Known Cases||1.7%||6.0%||14.4%||1.4%|
|Deaths per Million of Pop||3.5||366||527||3.9|
* New Zealand figures are very similar on a per million-of-population basis with 4.3 deaths per million people and a 1.4% death rate within cases. I also looked at South Korea and found similar statistics
Yes, it is always dangerous to compare one country’s “performance” vis a vis Covid 19 as it depends on so many factors: where they are in the curve, their density of population, their socio-economic status.
But with that caveat, as of now, South Africa has quietly been doing reasonably well.
We have fewer cases per million of population than Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. Similarly we thankfully have fewer deaths. Ultimately this may change a little, as our cases are still slowly rising. But hopefully the order of magnitude will be closer to Australia and South Korea than Europe.
Testing, Testing, Testing
Because of the small numbers, we have not been in a situation where we don’t have enough test kits available to be able to test people. And right from the start, we have had a mix of public and private laboratories being able to conduct tests.
So yes, our absolute testing numbers don’t compare to the absolute levels in Europe or the USA. But we do have a high ratio of tests to positive cases. Only 3% of tests result in positive cases versus 14% in the USA.
We have also used the lockdown time to initiate an expansive screening and testing regime following WHO best practise. We have screened at risk populations widely (Over 7 MILLION people have been screened). Then those showing mild symptoms (approx 100,000) have been sent for Covid 19 testing.
We have also recruited over 50,000 contact tracers to follow up and isolate people who have come into contact with people testing positive.
We are now into Stage 4 of the easing of lock-down. This doesn’t ease the social distancing at all. In fact it just means that our lock-down is similar to many other countries now.
- People are allowed to exercise (individually or in families) between 6 and 9am
- Working from home is strongly encouraged. However people are allowed to work in an office if they must.
- Some online sales are possible (though personally I think we could expand this to ensure more economic activity)
- Some shops selling winter clothes and other essential items have been allowed to open
However hotels, game lodges, bars and restaurants still remain closed.
Preparing for local tourism
Unlike many larger economies, we don’t have a sizeable local tourism market. But it is there. There is a middle to upper income sector of South Africans here who can no longer travel to Europe for holidays.
So currently the immediate strategy for every hotel and game lodge to try to attract the local South African market. Thus everyone is working pro-actively on their Covid-Compliant protocols. These vary from hotel to hotel but usually include:
- Safe-guarding entry to the hotel or lodge
- Clear social distancing protocols
- A “theatre of cleaning” but also putting the amount of room cleaning & staff entry into the hands of the client. If you don’t want someone returning to do a turn-down, you don’t have to.
- Clear and explainable protocols around eating (Buffets are out, plated meals and room service is in.)
What this means is that by the time international travel returns, these protocols will have been refined and become second nature to staff.
The Nature of the Destination
And, South Africa, unlike many other destinations, is primarily an outdoors destination. And now we all know that being outdoors is the safest place to be as viral tranmission is much lower.
We are not a land of colourful bustling markets, picturesque but crowded alleyways. Or fascinating, but all-too-well-visited, museums and art galleries
- We offer unspoilt, uncrowded beaches
- Vast expanses of scenic wilderness
- Quiet forest or mountain trails
- And of course prolific game reserves. Where we don’t promise that animals will practise social distancing!