by John Steenhuisen MP - Leader of the Democratic Alliance
President Ramaphosa delivered a speech but said very little. Essentially, he doubled down on what has been a tragically flawed approach that has wreaked catastrophic, unnecessary and possibly irreparable damage to our country.
South Africa’s economy and society must be opened up now, to save lives and livelihoods from all types of risks, not just Covid.
We repeat our call for the national lockdown to end swiftly. It is not a rational strategy, and has not been so for weeks. It is irrational and disproportionate to the scale of the risk that Covid poses, relative to other risks. And it has not been supported by an adequate safety net for poor people and small businesses.
President Ramaphosa is attempting to defend the indefensible. This lockdown has cost more lives than it has saved. Millions of jobs and lives have been destroyed.
Ramaphosa admitted in his speech that many regulations are irrational, yet did not end them. He continues to play on people’s fears.
South Africa’s Covid response must be based on facts, not fear. Here are some facts.
The virus cannot be eliminated. It will be with us for the near future. A rise and peak in infections is inevitable in the coming months, whether we lockdown or not. Lockdown can delay but not reduce the number of infections.
South Africa needs to get back to work immediately, but with measures in place to slow the spread:
- A reasonable set of safety regulations for businesses, public transport, schools and households. All regulations must have a direct, undeniable and meaningful impact on slowing the spread of the virus. This would include the use of masks, sanitising, screening and physical distancing. Any business or school not able to comply should remain closed.
- Anyone who can work from home should be allowed to do so. No parent should be forced to send their child to school if they do not deem it safe to do so.
- Recommended continued lockdown for the aged and those with any of the core co-morbidities.
- Localised lockdowns only in “hotspots”, where this is still possible.
The success of covid interventions depends on the buy-in and cooperation of citizens. The secretive, force-based, centrally-controlled ANC lockdown should immediately be replaced with this transparent, trust-based approach that puts more decision-making power in peoples’ hands. Compliance and safety will increase.
The early hard lockdown was a justifiable precautionary step, since there were many more unknowns then. But evidence that has come online since then shows that the covid mortality rate was greatly overestimated. Our approach must adjust accordingly.
The last 2-4 weeks of lockdown have not been necessary, rational or justified. President Ramaphosa is being disingenuous in suggesting that the lockdown has saved lives. It has merely delayed the peak. But the peak is inevitable whether we lockdown or not.
The DA supported the first 3-week national lockdown, to buy time to gather healthcare resources and prepare hospitals. Sadly, this did not happen, except in the Western Cape. Heads must roll.
The initial lockdown was also an opportunity to build test, track, trace capacity so that a smart lockdown (localised lockdowns) could be pursued. Sadly, this has not happened, except in the Western Cape. Heads must roll.
The scope for implementing a smart lockdown (localised containment of “hotspots” identified by smart testing and tracing) is fast diminishing. In fact, the window period for this is virtually closed, except in the Western Cape.
At the very least, we call on the government to:
- Greatly ramp up direct cash transfers, to urgently get help to as many hungry people as possible. This is faster and cheaper than food parcels.
- Be transparent about the assumptions underpinning the government’s response, and with all data that we have requested.
- End the military curfew and exercise restrictions.
- Allow unfettered e-commerce.
- Lift the ban on cigarettes and alcohol sales.
- Reinstate the separation of powers to enable executive oversight.
To lockdown hard and fast was the easy part. It required no real leadership, analysis or courage. The hard part, that requires brave leadership and honest analysis is to know when to end the lockdown. The DA repeats our warning that if government doesn’t end this lockdown, the people will end it for them.