Johannesburg: COVID-19 infections in South Africa’s coastal provinces have started showing an increase as tens of thousands of people from inner parts of the country swarmed the areas over the weekend for their annual holidays, with analysts warning that the number of cases could rise if coronavirus protocols are not followed.

The most popular coastal province, KwaZulu-Natal, which includes the city of Durban, accounted for 27 per cent of the 15,465 new COVID-19 cases identified in the last 24 hours by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in South Africa to 3,308,074.

The economic hub of Gauteng province, which has been responsible daily for up to 70 per cent of infections since the Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa last month, has moved to the second highest with 23 per cent, while the other popular costal province, Western Cape, is third with 18 per cent.

With many factories, offices and other workplaces now closed until early January, Gauteng’s share of the daily infections is expected to decrease further while the opposite happens in other provinces.

Analysts who had earlier expressed concern about the exodus of people from Gauteng affecting the coastal provinces said this increase is in line with expectations, with higher numbers expected if visitors to the coastal areas do not adhere to the plea by government to avoid large social gatherings and to follow the protocols of masks, social distancing and sanitising.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced last week that South Africa would retain the lowest Level One of its five-level strategy to fight the pandemic.

Phaahla cited the lower number of serious infections, the number of vaccinated people and fewer hospitalisations as the main reasons for this decision.

Meanwhile, amid the lifting of the travel ban by the UK, South Africa’s largest tourist market, people have been scrambling to get airline tickets reinstated and visas renewed.

At the British High Commission, spokesperson Isobel Potgieter said that there had been a backlog for processing visa applications because of the travel ban.

People desperate to visit family and friends in the UK for Christmas have been questioning the delay in the processing of visa applications.

My husband and I have not seen our aged parents for over two years now because of the pandemic and were excited to go this year after saving up enough money for the onerous quarantine requirements in the UK, but now our hopes are being dashed by the visa delay, said a woman on the condition of anonymity.

Travel agents said very few UK tourists, who had earlier cancelled their bookings to escape the cold to the sunny skies of South Africa, were reinstating their bookings.

Uncertainty about flights and quarantine costs upon their return are deterring many people from doing so, said travel agent Angelique Vermaak.

The situation in the UK, which is worsening every day, is also causing alarm, Vermaak said.

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