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END-OF-YEAR PARTIES FACE BLEAK PROSPECT

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MBABANE – The pomp and ceremony that brightens the festive season will be deflated this year as officials warn that people must shy away from crowded areas.

Normally, during this time of the year, public and private institutions hold festivities to mark an end to the year.

However, government’s strict warning this time around is for people to understand that this festive season is different, as the country continues to grapple with the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic. 

This will likely affect mostly public servants who have made it a par for the course to celebrate the year together in what they term end-of-year parties.

Though government long stopped supporting these celebrations financially, many civil servants, in past years, continued to party in private gatherings.

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Minister of Public Service Christian Ntshangase said his expectation was for public servants to act responsibly and obey all guidelines.

“We have not taken any conscious decision to stop the Christmas parties, but the obvious fact is that things will be different as we all have a responsibility to observe the COVID-19 regulations,” he said.

Ntshangase said ministries must discuss among themselves how they would handle the issue of Christmas parties if there was an urge from public servants to host them.   

His colleague in Minister of Health Lizzy Nkosi said no decision had been taken to ban parties, but the COVID-19 regulations would be enforced to ensure that people wear masks, avoid crowded areas and observe social distancing, while also applying the sanitisation principle.

“If you are compelled to wear a mask, you can decide for yourself if going to a party will help you. People can organise a party where they are two or three instead of going into crowds,” the minister said.

The minister said the mantra that everyone should adopt is: “unless everyone is safe from COVID-19, no one is safe.”

The minister said her advice was that people must continue to stay at home, if they can manage, to avoid contracting and spreading the COVID-19.

National Public Servants and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) Secretary General Thulani Hlatshwako said he did not encourage public servants to organise end-of-year parties in order for them to stay safe from the coronavirus.

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He said what had made things worse was the bleak financial status of public servants as government had failed to pay them the Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA) percentage that they were bargaining for.

“You will recall that over the past few months the country has seen a steady increase in public transport fares, bread price, the much hyped electricity increase and other inflation-pegged increases in prices. This then goes to show that public servants will not have any disposable income this festive season, which implies that this won’t be a normal festive season for many,” he said.

Hlatshwako recalled that the former Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini had already taken a hardline approach against the end-of-year parties, going to the extent of discouraging companies from sponsoring them.

“Without sponsorship, I do not foresee public servants managing these parties,” he said.

He emphasised that the main reason for discouraging end-of-year parties was to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Chairman of the Eswatini Consumer Association Bhanyaza Mdluli said people must be extra cautious this festive season and not engage in behaviour that would compel government to take stringent decisions.

“It is clear that we have a new normal now and we cannot expect our behaviour to be similar to that of previous years,” he said.

Mdluli said life matters much more than fun, which was why he encouraged people to remain on the safe side. He said those who felt the urge to go out must respect the COVID-19 regulations.

Two weeks ago, government suspended the license of Sibebe Resort after it leased  out the venue for an event where patrons abandoned the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Subsequent to this, Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini sternly warned all hangout spots and revellers that those who would be spotted breaking the COVID-19 guidelines and regulations would risk having their trading licences revoked and or arrested. Minister of Sports Culture and Youth Affairs Harries Madze Bulunga also reacted strongly to this and warned that Sibebe Resort had been banned from hosting and organising any entertainment or arts activity.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has warned that young people must resist their urge to party to help prevent new infections of coronavirus. The organisation said young people are much less likely to be severely affected by the disease, but can still spread it. It further observed that globally, the number of  15-24 year olds infected with disease had increased three-fold in the past five months.

“Young people must curb their party instincts to help prevent new outbreaks of the COVID-19 disease,” officials at the WHO pleaded recently in a statement.

The agency also observed that young people were reluctant to give their details or disclose friends’ names to contact tracers.

The first runaway cases of coronavirus in Eswatini were birthed in a wild party in Manzini in April.

Meanwhile, projections by the Centre for Disease Control have shown that cases of coronavirus would increase as the world heads for a second wave of the pandemic.

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