The Department of Health briefed the media on 25 November warning of a new COVID-19 variant in the country. The super-variant called B.1.1.529 is said to have a very high number of mutations and has been found in Botswana and Hong Kong. This comes after statistics released on 24 November, showed new cases on the rise. Gauteng currently has the highest infection rate with over 1000 new cases.
Is it safe to say that the fourth wave is beginning? Experts are still investigating and at this point, they aren’t sure if current vaccines will work against this new variant.
While a fourth wave has been expected for some time, the news still weighs heavy. The restaurant industry is understandably in panic with speculation going around that restaurants and bars may be closed for the festive season. But until the president addresses the nation nothing is certain.
National chair of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA), Rosemary Anderson is pleading with the government not to shut down the industry in December and to make every effort to avoid imposing additional restrictions on the sector.
“Unlike many other sectors, the hospitality sector has largely borne the brunt of changing lockdown regulations, despite putting in place stringent health and hygiene protocols,” Anderson says. “Thousands of livelihoods have already been lost and every day the operations of the hospitality sector and its extended supply chain are curtailed through regulations, more livelihoods hang in the balance.”
Anderson’s plea is especially important as the tourism and hospitality sector is seeing signs of recovery. Stats SA is reporting a second-consecutive month of growth according to its Accommodation and Food and Beverage performance key report for September 2021.
Anderson adds, “In addition to a public health campaign encouraging citizens to comply with non-pharmaceutical protocols, we would like to see a much faster rate of vaccination and a strengthened healthcare system as these really are the only way we can eliminate continuing surges, avoid COVID limiting operations and restore some semblance of normality in our lives.”
Vaccination continues to be a key and contentious issue. The Health Department says that it has over 16 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. It is now asking suppliers to delay deliveries because people are not getting vaccinated. While scientists are not yet sure if the current vaccines will work against the new variant, they have proven to be efficient at preventing severe illness and reducing hospitalization.
CEO of Ocean Basket and the spokesperson of The Restaurant Collective (TRC), Grace Harding says insufficient people being vaccinated is the problem.
“TRC is going to continue to drive the importance of vaccinating. There is so much ignorance around vaccinations. In other countries, they are imposing lockdown on those who are not vaccinated. Our challenge in South Africa is that no restaurant wants to turn guests away. We have to continue to trade and start to live. The owners and crew of restaurants are on their last legs,” she says.
Harding asserts however that, “We are Covid fit,” noting that the industry has had to adapt and survive, that operating in a pandemic has become a way of life. Some of the ways of ensuring survival have included making use of online delivery apps, as well as takeaway services for customers who don’t feel comfortable dining out.
In terms of stock and supply chain, the franchisor has made plans to ensure there are no interruptions in the seafood supply chain for the whole Ocean Basket brand.
For Wandile Mabaso’ s team at Le Creatifs restaurant, learning and adjusting have meant continuing to reinvent how they operate.
“What we’ve been doing parallel to our in-dining service is developing our @home operations and experience for our clientele, as well as partnering with organizations in using technology formats to create contactless dining experiences and virtual moments with our chefs,” Mabaso shares. His team will be offering these exclusive dining experiences for Christmas and in case there’s a lockdown imposed.
Desmond Mabuza’s Signature restaurant and Level Seven Restaurant and Sky Bar which are both fine dining establishments, also specialise in “@home” experiences where they recreate dining elements in the comfort of your home, complete with décor, sommeliers, waitrons as well as spirits and wine guidance.
Mabuza opened his Level Seven in 2020 during the hardest and most restricted part of lockdown. “Launching the “@home” experiences and keeping in contact with the close-knit yet growing community via social media and newsletters was a huge strength in survival,” Mabuza says.
He notes that continued safety is also crucial. “We have controlled numbers in both Signature Restaurant and Level Seven Restaurant and Sky Bar. Our state of the art temperature screening devices are placed at the entrance to each restaurant. We also ensure our staff are healthy, and wear masks and gloves without compromise,” he says.
Mabuza sits on the board of The Restaurant Collective. In conclusion, he says, “Members of The Restaurant Collective are working together to avoid the 4th wave, they can help register a vaccination education course completion certificate to display in your restaurant. This provides confidence for consumers and creates a positive culture of responsibility and support.”