“Two… three… four… whooaahhh… whooaahhh… we’re only allowed 50 people inside… two… three… oh no – now a couple!
“A metre apart people, please stay a metre apart!”
“Can you please come home with me and tell that to my husband?”
A distance of a metre and a half between shoppers meant the queue outside Pick n Pay at Pepper Grove Mall in Makhanda curled around the corner and stretched past the shut doors of the gift shop, towards the closed bookshop.
There was a combination of banter and deadly seriousness – but the patter by the Pick n Pay manager-cum-bouncer kept tension at bay.
“And why are you special?” the manager asked – but in a way that even the soldier who marched straight to the front of the queue when he arrived couldn’t help but smile.
Wednesday and Thursday this week saw a rush on supermarkets as panic buying followed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Tuesday night announcement of a 21-day lockdown to slow the spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19. This was despite the President’s assurance that supply chains would not be interrupted, shops (including supermarkets) selling essential goods would remain open, and citizens would be allowed to go out to buy groceries and other essentials.
Friday saw family members in pairs walking a long road – either from the Currie Street area along African Street towards Pick n Pay and Checkers, or Raglan Road and Beaufort Street from Joza and the townships around it.
‘Stocks are coming through: people are obviously under a lot of stress now but things are in the pipeline,” said Pick n Pay Manager Jon Campbell. Talking about the panic buying rush ahead of lockdown, he said, “Things that don’t normally sell fast but got sold out quickly will get replenished again. We’re just going to have to take every day as it comes: if you can’t buy apples, you may have to buy pears eventually.
“At this stage enough of the basics are coming in – sugar, milk, oil, the other essentials. I’m just not allowed to sell cigarettes.”
The shelves had looked well stocked when Grocott’s Mail earlier stepped inside.
“We have a night shift, so every night we replenish,” Campbell said. “A big Pick n Pay truck will come in the middle of the night – pack the fresh veggies out, pack the chicken and everything else. At this stage, all is normal. There’s no need to panic.”
How had people been responding to the strict door control measures? we asked.
“We had a bit of a problem this morning,” Campbell said. “Not everybody’s got the same understanding of the danger of the Coronavirus. People say they live together, why must they stand a metre apart?
“But obviously once you allow two people to stand together you may as well allow everybody. The law is very clear: more than a metre apart, and that’s what the law says. We can’t risk being closed by the police because we don’t enforce the rules. As you can see, it’s one out, one in. At least we’re open, at least we’re providing the service.
At Grahamstown Pharmacy it had been a similar story.
“It’s been quite a wild two days with people wanting to get their chronic medication ahead of time,” said Pharmacist Yolande Pretorius. “We are struggling with stock at the moment as a result: our suppliers can’t pack fast enough for what we need.”
Then there had been the earlier panic buying.
“Most medications they want are vitamins, especially Vitamin C, which is out of stock at the moment, hand sanitiser, which is also out of stock, and flu medication,’ Pretorius said.
“People don’t seem to realise how important it is to clean your hands and stay at home, so there are still a lot of people coming in.”
Pharmacy staff wear masks and gloves, customers have their hands sprayed with sanitiser as they enter, and lines on the floor mark how far apart customers must queue. There were just two customers in the shop when Grocott’s Mail was there.
The High Street entrance to Checkers was closed off at the glass door to the entrance foyer and a short queue stretched across the pavement. A marshall opened a narrow gap to let one person in our out at a time.
Austin Ogukwu spoke to Grocott’s Mail outside Patel’s cafe in Bathurst Street.
“Everywhere is quiet. There’s no business. People are hungry,” said Ogukwu.
“But life is more important. You understand. You can’t say what the government is doing is bad. It’s good for us, but they must try harder to make sure this sickness is defeated.”
SOME IMPORTANT LOCKDOWN RULES
Minister of Co-operative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma declared a national state of disaster, gazetted on 15 March. The following night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the early closure of schools and tertiary institutions along with other measures to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19 so that our health services are not overwhelmed. Just over a week later, the President announced more drastic measures under a national lockdown restricting citizens to their homes. On Wednesday 25 March, Dlamini-Zuma signed off the final regulations for the 21-day lockdown in terms of the Disaster Management Act. Regulations include that:
- Every person must stay at home unless they are performing or obtaining an essential service or essential goods. Collecting social grants or getting emergency, life-saving or chronic medical attention is allowed.
- No gatherings are allowed, except funerals with limited numbers and under certain conditions.
- No travelling between provinces is allowed.
- People performing essential services must carry a specific letter of authorisation and may be subjected to Covid-19 screening.
- Shops selling essential goods (such as grocery stores and pharmacies) may remain open provided they enforce a distance of at least one metre between customers, and practice strict Covid-19 hygiene controls. If a shop also sells goods that aren’t essential, they may not sell them.
- Taxis may operate from 5am to 9am and 4pm to 8pm. They may only be half full and drivers must sanitise them after each trip.
- There may only be two people in a private vehicle including the driver.
- The national lockdown is in force until a minute before midnight on Thursday 16 April 2020.
RMR89.7 and Grocott’s Mail are bringing you updates and keeping you in touch during lockdown.