Infectious disease expert and former chairperson of the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, said this was the best time to end the state of disaster, with the low transmission rate of Covid-19.
MEDICAL experts and economists have reacted with shock and dismay to the extension of the national state of disaster, with opposition parties calling for answers from President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to justify another extension.
Dlamini Zuma announced on Tuesday that the national state of disaster would be extended until April 15. It has been 24 months since the state of disaster was first declared in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic. The state of disaster was set to expire on Tuesday, however, under Section 3 of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002) it can be extended by the minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.
Infectious disease expert and former chairperson of the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, said due to the current low transmission of Covid-19, the national state of disaster should have been lifted while some restrictions remained in place.
Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, shared the same view that the state of disaster should have been lifted.
Abdool Karim said the low transmission of Covid-19 suggested that this was the best time to ease restrictions.
“There are four restrictions that need to remain in place while low transmissions of Covid-19 is taking place. Firstly, there has to be some restrictions on mass gatherings especially indoors as we saw in the Rage festival, large indoor gatherings can cause the virus to spread rapidly.
“The next thing is there still needs to be a restriction in place for the indoor wearing of masks. The third restriction that should be in place is that people have to take off their masks at indoor gatherings, with only vaccinated people being allowed to remove masks at large indoor gatherings. It may not be compulsory to continue wearing masks outdoors.
“Lastly, we need to maintain vigilance where we monitor the rate of transmissibility of Covid-19 cases.”
Abdool Karim added that there was an expectation that the government was going to lift the national state of disaster.
“We thought that the national state of disaster would not be reinstituted. It is a bit of a surprise as there was an announcement by the Cabinet last month that they would be ending the state of disaster. It is clear that the state of disaster can’t continue. It may be that the Cabinet hasn’t finished their work yet to lift the state of disaster at present.”
Ndung’u said the government’s decision was unexpected.
“We are in a situation where the number of Covid-19 cases are low, we also know that a lot of people have been vaccinated. Obviously, we can’t take away all the restrictions as some need to remain in place. However, the government must finish their work and the state of disaster needs to come to an end.”
DA spokesperson on Cogta, Cilliers Brink, said they believed the move was “nothing but a power grab in order to continue to give ANC cronies and comrades easy access to Covid funds and to trample upon fundamental constitutional rights”.
Calling for support of the DA’s motion of no confidence in Dlamini Zuma, Cilliers said the decision to extend the state of disaster was done without proper consultation with experts or the President’s Co-ordinating Council and that no explanation and accountability to the public and Parliament was given.
“It is time Minister Dlamini Zuma was fired. Her brand of irrational dictatorship is eroding the economy and causing job losses on a massive scale.”
NFP secretary-general Canaan Mdletshe said the extension was an indication of a country with a disastrous leadership.
“The minister of Cogta and President Cyril Ramaphosa had an opportunity to do things differently and correctly by lifting this senseless and unnecessary state of emergency, yet they chose to extend it because they enjoy seeing poverty continuing. Clearly, we have a disastrous leadership, incompetent government, taking mind-boggling decisions,” Mdletshe said.
Professor Bonke Dumisa, an independent economic analyst, said he had been advocating for the state of disaster to be lifted.
“It is clear that the delay in lifting the restrictions came as a result of the Department of Health not completing their work. I feel that the restrictions are not serving a purpose any more and with the delay we are stuck with the state of disaster for another month.”
Professor Dilip Garach, a tax economist, said that the extension of the state of disaster would not have any real economic impact as most restrictions that affected the economy had been lifted already.