Not wearing a face mask in public is a criminal offence, but there are still those who don’t wear a mask, wear the wrong kind of mask or wear a mask in the wrong way.
According to the Disaster Management Act, you can be fined R1000 for disobeying an order by an officer of the law to wear a mask.
Public-transport operators, building owners, employers and school principals can face imprisonment for up to six months if they don’t take reasonable steps to check that those entering their premises or vehicles are wearing masks.
Police Minister Bheki Cele has warned the public that they could “go to jail” and end up with a criminal record for flouting lockdown regulations.
The provincial Department of Health says wearing a mask is vital to stop the spread of Covid-19, especially now as a second wave of infections – including a more transmissible strain of the virus – passes its peak, with 254 498 cases in the province, and 26 464 in the southern district.
According to the latest provincial government data, the virus has claimed 9199 lives in the Western Cape. Countrywide, there have been 37 449 deaths.
On a tour of the Constantia valley last week it appears that almost everyone is wearing masks covering their nostrils and mouths. However, physical distancing and hand washing with soap is not as prevalent. In a number of public toilets, people rinsed their hands under running water but did not lather with soap for 20 seconds or longer as recommended by the health authorities.
According to the Western Cape on Wellness (WoW) Healthy Lifestyle Initiative, a mask should be made from at least three layers, be square with three pleats to fit well – avoid T-shirt material – and should cover the nose, mouth and chin and be secured with elastic loops or ties. It should be washed in hot water and reusable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends not choosing masks with exhalation valves or vents, as they allow virus particles to escape, and face shields.
In South Africa, more recently there has been a surge in demand for disposable masks.
“A disposable mask is meant for single-use and is disposed of after one use. These masks work by trapping harmful particles inside the mesh of fibres of which they are made of,” says Kapil Bhatia, CEO of UniMask.
A report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says global sales of disposable face masks this year will be worth $166 billion compared to $800 million in 2019.
Sergeant Deidre Solomon, from Kirstenhof police station, said people were generally keeping to the Covid-19 regulations and were wearing masks.
“No arrests were made for people not wearing masks,” she said. “We don’t seem to have a problem with non-compliance with mask wearing in our area.”
Captain Silvino Davids, from Wynberg police station, said they used PA systems on their vehicles to remind transgressors. They had made numerous arrests, he said, of people committing crimes after curfew and they added the R1000 fine to the criminal charges.
At shopping malls in Tokai, Bergvliet, Constantia and Steenberg, security guards at exits and entrances said most people were sticking to the “no mask, no entry” regulation. A few complained that masks were “irritating” or “hot”, said one guard.
At the Wynberg traffic precinct, some traders were not wearing masks.
Taxi operator Eric Mbanga said it remained a requirement for passengers to wear masks. “No mask, no boarding or entering the rank space,” he said.
Maret Lesch, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Health, said it was everyone’s responsibility to wear a clean cloth mask when leaving the house and that non-compliance could be reported to SAPS.
“Our best defence against new infections remains changing our behaviour and observing safety precautions, such as continuing to wash our hands often, to wear our masks when we go out, to keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres from other people, and to stay home when you feel sick,” she said.