Cancellations have hit coastal towns and cities in the Eastern Cape and on the Garden Route. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE/THE HERALD
Cancellations have hit coastal towns and cities in the Eastern Cape and on the Garden Route. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE/THE HERALD

Coastal towns identified as Covid-19 hotspots on the Garden Route and in the Eastern Cape were left reeling on Wednesday as tourists cancelled holiday bookings after the closure of popular beaches.

The cost of cancellations is expected to run into hundreds of millions of rand, which could lead to more job losses and businesses closing. It’s another blow to SA’s tourism industry, which was among the hardest hit during the initial lockdown, which closed down virtually the whole economy in late March before being progressively eased.

On beaches spared from the festive season ban, such as those in Cape Town, authorities are scrambling to enforce new lockdown rules published on Tuesday or risk being shut down by the national government.

Plettenberg Bay Tourism CEO Patty Butterworth said the town, which had been counting on a successful festive season to make up some of the losses from the initial lockdown, could lose more than R200m. The cancellation of its Rage Festival would cost R48m, she said.

Post-matric events have been cited as superspreaders, with one in Ballito linked to about 1,000 cases.

"Accommodation cancellations have been confirmed and more cancellations will undoubtedly follow, causing further damage to a local economy," Butterworth said.

The tourism body was left in a "complete state of shock" after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Monday that Garden Route beaches will be closed between December 15 and January 3, she said.

It supported the closure of beaches on December 16 and 25 and January 1.

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Nqaba Bhanga urged people to comply with the rules to ensure "that we all cross over to the new year in a healthy state".

Knysna Tourism CEO Colleen Durant said a "substantial number" of bookings had been cancelled.

"That is very sad because it impacts the economy very badly. We’ve tried to mitigate that by encouraging people not to cancel because we have so much more than beaches around here," Durant said.

Waterways, including rivers and lagoons, were still open and fishing was allowed for those who had permits. "We are still encouraging people to come here. There is still a good holiday and getaway to have."

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