By Sisipho Skweyiya
CAPE TOWN, Dec 24 (Reuters) – Caden Khayo stands outside a bar on Cape Town’s Long Street, eager to make the most of this Christmas after months of restrictions and COVID-19 concerns.
Many feared a repeat of last year’s holiday lockdown, after South Africa became one of the first countries to identify the new omicron variant, which spreads faster than previous versions.
However, President Cyril Ramaphosa has not ordered any new restrictions this time. He has urged people to be careful and has let the bars continue to serve beer, for now.
“It’s Christmas, we have to be happy,” says Khayo, 30, as around the drinkers move from one club to another.
“Last year we were home. We were locked up and everything. But this time, we are here, we have fun. That’s a good thing.”
Hundreds of people have flocked to the bohemian bars, clubs and hangouts that line the three kilometers of the street.
In Johannesburg, several thousand people have turned out to enjoy the light displays that have filled the Melrose Arch shopping area with twinkling reindeer, giant teddy bears and sparkling Christmas trees.
The midnight curfew remains in effect. Bar owners remain cautious, on the lookout for more restrictions or the return of the alcohol ban that was imposed in June.
For now, however, many are optimistic about vaccination schedules and data suggesting that those infected with omicron are much less likely to end up in hospital than those with the delta strain.
On Long Street, the food business in particular is holding up well, says Prince Kabare, CEO of the Beerhouse bar.
“We are between 30% and 40% better than last year, so it is a good sign,” he adds. “Now we can recover some of the personnel and get going.”
Outside at dusk, masked police officers watch the flowing traffic through the crowded streets.
“Everybody’s here to party. Look at this place,” says tourist Jason Smuts. “It’s good to see that everyone wears their masks, and I have been vaccinated, I hope everyone has been vaccinated. It will be positive.”
(Written by Nqobile Dludla; edited by Tim Cocks and Andrew Heavens, translated by Tomás Cobos)