By Antony Sguazzin
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has disbanded the government’s scientific advisory committee on the coronavirus, some of whose members have openly disagreed with state measures to tackle the disease.
Members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 were advised by letter this week that the group is being reconfigured, Francois Venter of the University of the Witwatersrand, and Glenda Gray, chief executive officer of the South African Medical Research Council, confirmed by text message on Saturday.
The disbanding follows Mkhize’s announcement on September 14 that he would reconstitute the committee, News24 reported, citing the one-paragraph letter.
The 51-strong committee, headed by Salim Abdool Karim, was created earlier this year to advise Mkhize on how to handle the pandemic.
Some members of the council, including Gray and Venter, disagreed with the government’s decision to curb economic activity in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. Gray’s criticism of some of the measures as “unscientific” in May prompted Mkhize to accuse her of lying and led to a spat between the government and the academic community. Shabir Madhi, another MAC member who heads up the South African arm of a vaccine trial, has also been critical.
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South Africa recorded 668,529 cases and 16,312 deaths as of Friday, giving it the largest number of infections in Africa. More than 4.1 million people have been tested, out of a population of 59 million. The rate of coronavirus infections has slowed markedly over the past month.
The Health Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.