Government is holding back Covid-19 data to avoid panic – report

The government says it is holding back some information on the Covid-19 pandemic, to avoid panic.

The Sunday Times reported that the government’s strategy to keep crucial data from the public comes after an earlier model on which the country’s strict lockdown laws was heavily criticised.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize said Saturday (9 May), that there are now 9,420 confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa.

This is an increase of 525 from the 8,895 cases reported on Friday, with infections having jumped by 663 cases over the prior 24-hour period.

Dr Mkhize said that the total number of deaths has increased by eight, to 186.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko told the Sunday Times: “We don’t want to put these models out to the public as if they are the gospel truth.

“There is an element where we want to avoid panic in communities, and we’re also mindful of the stigma of the virus.”

Experts noted that the government’s decisions on reopening the economy are based on information and data that is not available to the public.

The data will include epidemiological models drawn up by leading scientists, actuaries and mathematicians tracking how effective the lockdown has been, the Sunday paper said.

Opposition

Opposition party, the Democratic Alliance  DA has demanded the minutes of all discussions held by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) on the coronavirus.

DA leader, John Steenhuisen, said the party has filed an application in terms of the Promotion to Access to Information (PAIA) Act to access the ‘classified’ records.

Steenhuisen said that the lockdown in its current form is ‘destructive’, which has turned South Africans into “subjects of an authoritarian state”.

“Level 4 of the lockdown, as it turns out, is hardly different from Level 5. In fact, in many respects it is more restrictive, not less,” Steenhuisen said.

“This wasn’t progress towards a more open society and economy at all. It was simply an extension of the hard lockdown – this time with no final deadline in sight.”

Economic importance

Economists and private sector have warned of the devastating effects that a continued lockdown will have on the country’s economy and employment.

If level 4 continues for a month, with a gradual move to lower levels, the economy will contract 14.5% in 2020.

A swift move to level 2 would reduce the contraction to 10% and cut the number of formal sector jobs at risk from 2 million to less than half that.

At level 2, 97% of the workforce is allowed to work.

Business for SA (B4SA) has stated that quickly moving South Africa to a level 2 lockdown will save over one million jobs, while still allowing people to keep safe and follow Covid-19 health protocols.

A Sunday Times report on B4SA’s statement said the group is in constant talks with the government on allowing people to go back to work.

It noted that companies and employees can take responsibility for “implementing stringent health and safety controls” when returning to their places of work.

The current lockdown approach, which has been at level 5 and level 4, “is economically impractical and hard to regulate”, it said.

“This could have dire socioeconomic and health consequences.”

Under level 4, many businesses are prevented from opening. As a result, employees are sitting at home without pay – waiting for UIF contributions to help them pay the bills.


Read: The World Health Organisation on the coronavirus peak, ending lockdown, and the smoking ban in South Africa

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Government is holding back Covid-19 data to avoid panic – report