From the outset of South Africa’s Covid-19 pandemic, the government’s response has been presented as a clear choice between containing infections and keeping the economy alive.
However, this has not been the case, says president Cyril Ramaphosa who was speaking at a Nedlac event on Monday (1 February).
“We have found that this is a false choice,” he said. “The restrictions we have had to put in place to flatten the curve have had a severe impact on the economy and employment.
“But these effects would have been far worse and probably would have lasted much longer if we had allowed the pandemic to decimate our population – not to mention the unbearable human cost.”
The president added that the government has had to maintain a difficult balance in containing infections as much as possible while trying to limit the disruption to the economy.
“We have done so knowing that the effects of an uncontrolled pandemic would not only cause great human suffering now, but could potentially cause our economy irreversible damage.
“That is why we need to overcome this pandemic – not only to save lives but also to protect livelihoods, now and into the future.”
Vaccines and restrictions
The president’s comments come on the eve of two major announcements for South Africa – the rollout of its first vaccines, and the expected easing of restrictions for the country.
South Africa will receive its first consignment of Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute in India on Monday, marking the the beginning of a mass vaccination campaign that will be the most ambitious and extensive in the country’s history, Ramaphosa said.
“The first vaccines to arrive will be provided to health care workers. The second phase will include essential workers, teachers, the elderly and those with co-morbidities. The third phase will then include other adults in the population.
“A comprehensive rollout strategy and an accompanying logistical framework will need to be implemented in partnership with labour, the private sector, civil society, traditional leadership, the religious sector and others.”
The presidency has also confirmed that Ramaphosa will address the nation at 20h00 on Monday (1 February) to discuss developments in relation to the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The address follows meetings in recent days of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), the President’s Coordinating Council (PCC) and Cabinet,” the presidency said in a statement.
Ramaphosa is expected to address the country’s adjusted level 3 lockdown and ongoing restrictions, including the prohibition on the sale of alcohol.
The country introduced new restrictions on 29 December as it grappled with the impact of a second Covid-19 wave. However, data from health authorities shows that the country has likely passed the peak in infections.
A key consideration around the president’s address will be the issue of alcohol sales.
News24 reported that discussions are underway in several government departments to consider the possibility of lifting the alcohol ban as infection rates ease.
The opening of beaches, the evening curfew and concerns around the opening of schools are also issues which have been raised, and are likely to be considered.