The usually relaxed and easy-going town of Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape was shaken by the news that the coronavirus had arrived, just as they were looking forward to the easing of a lockdown that has left households without an income.
Mayor Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo said residents were stunned to hear there were six cases diagnosed in their town, after all the work they had put into abiding by lockdown rules.
They had doubled down on their determination to keep themselves safe from the virus, struggling through the closure of the shops and restaurants which are the lifeblood of a town that depends heavily on tourists.
However, six relatives, believed to have attended a funeral before the lockdown, have subsequently been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
OR Tambo District Municipality mayoral spokesperson Mntuwoxolo Ngudle said the family was in self-isolation as provincial health officials traced the people they had been in contact with.
Mlombile-Cingo said the news came as a blow to the town.
“Even the hawkers said, ‘if the cobblers are closing down, we will close down too’,” said Mlombile-Cingo, describing the way residents rallied together to stay safe.
The hawkers were particularly affected by the lockdown.
Living day to day with the little they earn from the fruit and vegetable stalls, a colourful feature of the seaside town, they had been looking forward to an easing of restrictions before they heard of the news of cases in their town.
Mlombile-Cingo said residents are now planning for an even tougher lockdown, with not even essential movement.
She said even the taxi drivers ferrying people around on their essential business have said they will stay indoors if that is what it takes to make sure there are no more cases.
However, she is also worried about the approaching next wave of pay days and SA Social Security Agency grant payouts, where people will have no option but to go out again – for groceries and to pay bills.
As it is, the residents are struggling to make ends meet, and the villagers who live on the outskirts of the town, are already depending on food parcels and donations.
She said people who are able to help in Port St Johns are rallying together.