South Africans leapt at the opportunity to leave their homes on Friday as the nationwide coronavirus lockdown was phased down to level 4.
This meant a general easing of regulations, allowing people to exercise outside, and the reopening of certain shops, such as hardware and clothing stores, after five weeks of restrictions that plunged the country’s struggling economy deeper into turmoil.
In all major cities, South Africans flocked outdoors to get their exercise within the allotted time frame of 06.00am to 09.00am, some bringing along their children and dogs.
In addition, South Africans were out in their numbers to take advantage of the regulations that allowed them to shop for more than just the absolute essentials.
The issue of wearing face masks proved problematic, however, with several people not wearing them being turned away from stores and shopping malls, and several people exercising in public without masks.
“It is going to be mandatory to use a cloth mask as you step out of your home,” Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said on Saturday.
Various government officials, including Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, have reiterated that the wearing of face masks was considered mandatory.
Earlier this month, Dr Anban Pillay, acting director-general for national health insurance at the department of health, said in a statement: “Cloth face masks are recommended as part of respiratory hygiene or etiquette which also includes coughing and sneezing into a bent elbow or a tissue (with proper disposal of the tissue).”
Medical-grade face masks are not necessary and are, in fact, discouraged, since these are needed by healthcare workers.
Scarves and T-shirts are fine
“Surgical masks and N-95 masks are critical supplies that must be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders. The public is strongly discouraged from using these masks,” Pillay said.
This means that you may wear any form of facial protection, including scarves or “another appropriate item” that covers your nose and mouth when in a public place. Therefore, if you don’t yet have a cloth mask, you can wear a scarf or a T-shirt wrapped around your mouth and nose, Dlamini-Zuma said.
Walkers, runners and joggers are not in a public place (unless they decide to walk in a mall), but to avoid any doubt, the wearing of a face mask is sensible, Roy Bregman, director of Bregman Moodley Attorneys in Johannesburg, told Business Insider.
Following the wide-scale disregard of mask-wearing by runners and cyclists at the Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town on Friday morning, the police issued a warning to all residents that, from Saturday, there would be a zero-tolerance approach, which included that “all persons must have a mask”.
At a ministerial briefing on Friday, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu made it clear: “It is now the law. You must wear a mask.”