Surprise, jubilation, fear and dread.
These were some of the emotions encountered on the streets and sidewalks as morning commuters grappled with the sudden ending of what has become an ingrained habit had become part of everyday life for more than two years – wearing a face mask in public because of Covid-19.
Many people who were approached on the streets of Johannesburg and Tshwane were unaware that Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla had just signed a government gazette hours before some of the last remaining Covid-19 regulations were lifted.
Rosebank restaurant manager Andries Ncube was among those caught off guard when he arrived at work.
“Even our customers were surprised I don’t know. We had to explain to them why we don’t wear masks. For me, my concern is that they [the government] should have changed the rule in August, not now in June when there’s a lot of flu,” he said.
“I wear mine because I feel cold,” said Thabo Ndambi at Gautrain station in Rosebank. “I’ve heard on the news that we don’t have to wear masks in public, but [as a] precaution, I think we still have to wear a mask.
“It’s long overdue, but I think it will take some time before we drop it completely because it has become part of our lives. We’ve been wearing it for two years. You can’t just drop masks. They also need to open stadiums.”
Malawi street vendor Mariko Wiunz wore her mask and initially expressed uncertainty about the change, but warmed to the idea.
“I don’t see any Problem walking around and dealing with people without a mask. We had to wear it because the government made us wear it, but now I think we don’t need it anymore. We’ve been exposed to Covid-19 for a while now,” he said.
Most people at Nkomo Village shopping mall wore masks. Stores were still enforcing the no-mask, no-entry rule and disinfection protocol.
A popular fast-food restaurant manager, who asked not to be named, said he would keep the mask rule in place – for now .
“For our safety, we should continue to wear masks because it’s not that Covid-19 is gone, it’s just that they can deal with it now. I prefer the masks, we work with so many people. [Saturday] is the 25th, payday, many people will come here. If people are not in charge since the flu season, it will also affect our business as we sometimes suffer from staff shortages,” she said.
The staff have yet to be notified by the head office about the next step .
Solly Semadi, head of the Astoa Taxi Association, said they advise commuters to dress up for their own safety and that of drivers.
“On the road I see no problem , but if you go where people are, you should wear a mask. I don’t understand why they dropped the mask now, they should have waited for the spring season. I still recommend that passengers wear masks so that they can protect their health and that of the drivers. It’s winter and flu season.”
Semadi felt that people going into shops should continue to wear masks. Some taxi drivers were reluctant to cover their noses and mouths, “but most have no problem, few will say they forgot.”
“Dropping masks has no impact now. In pubs, buses and at home, people did not wear masks. If it didn’t do any harm there, why not? Covid-19 has been with us for two years – the more people are exposed to it, the better,” said Sello Nkopane from Johannesburg on the way to work – with a mask on.
Norman Mbonisi, manager of a petrol station in Atteridgeville , said it was difficult to breathe with a mask. “Most people don’t like masks, not even me. If it’s announced, there’s nothing we can do… Some people complain that it causes flu because it accumulates bacteria,” he said.
Unmasking would probably help in the fight against crime. “If a customer is wearing a mask, it’s very difficult to identify them if they’re stealing, so without a mask it’ll be easy.”
Though he was glad the rule was scrapped, it was it so each employee could choose their preferences.
Gas station attendants wore masks and customers entering the workshop also wore masks and were disinfected.
Support independent journalism by Subscribe to the Sunday Times. Only 20 R for the first month.