Government is using scientific and economic data to make lockdown decisions: Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that the government is relying on scientific, economic and empirical data to make decisions and formulate regulations around its coronavirus response.

In his weekly open letter to the public, Ramaphosa said: “We want all South Africans to be part of this national effort. The voices of ordinary citizens must continue to be heard at a time as critical as this.”

The president’s letter appeared to defend the government’s approach to lockdown, which has come under criticism for being particularly strict. Some reports claim that the government’s approach is not informed by science.

The Sunday Times reported that scientists, business and labour want the government to fast-track lockdown restrictions, saying they are having little or no effect on stemming infections in the country.

Some members of the ministerial advisory committee (MAC), the body headed by professor Salim Abdool Karim that advises the government on its response to the pandemic, have supported their colleague Dr Glenda Gray, who has said that the lockdown has no basis in science.

Gray, chair of the South African Medical Research Council, said the strategy “is not based in science and is completely unmeasured”.

The acting director-general of the department of health, Anban Pillay, said that the government has “adopted almost all of the recommendations” made by the medical council.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced on Sunday evening, that there are now 15,515 confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa.

This is an increase of 1,160 cases from the 14,355 cases reported on Saturday when the country recorded its highest daily total of 831 new infections.

Dr Mkhize said on Sunday (17 May), that the total number of deaths has now reached 264 – an increase of three deaths from 261 reported before.

Scientific, economic and empirical data

There has been, and will continue to be, robust and strident critique of a number of aspects of our national response to coronavirus, from the data modelling and projections to the economic effects of the lockdown, to the regulations, the president said.

“As government we have neither called for such critique to be tempered or for it to be silenced.

“To the contrary, criticism, where it is constructive, helps us to adapt and to move with agility in response to changing circumstances and conditions. It enriches public debate and gives us all a broader understanding of the issues at play,” he said.

“We have consistently maintained that we rely on scientific, economic and empirical data when it comes to making decisions and formulating regulations around our coronavirus response. To the greatest extent possible under these challenging circumstances, we aim for consultation and engagement.

“We want all South Africans to be part of this national effort. The voices of ordinary citizens must continue to be heard at a time as critical as this.”

Court challenge

Ramaphosa said that he will not stand in the way of any individuals or groups who challenge the country’s lockdown rules in court.

He said that since the start of the crisis, a number of people have exercised their right to approach the courts.

Ramaphosa added that the lockdown regulations were challenged in the very first week of the lockdown by a private citizen from Mpumalanga who wanted an exemption from the travel prohibition to attend a funeral.

“In the seven weeks that have followed, there have been legal challenges from a number of individuals, religious bodies, political parties, NGOs and from business organisations against one measure or more of the lockdown provisions they were unhappy with.

“Some have succeeded in their legal challenges and some have not. Some had approached the courts on the basis of the urgency of their cases had their urgency arguments dismissed and others have found other avenues for the relief they sought.”

Ramaphosa said that a number of groups have also withdrawn their applications following engagement with government.

“While we would prefer to avoid the need for any legal action against government, we should accept that citizens who are unhappy with whatever action that government has decided on implementing have a right to approach our courts for any form of relief they seek.

“This is a normal tenet of a constitutional democracy and a perfectly acceptable practice in a country founded on the rule of law.”

Ramaphosa said that there are a number of checks and balances in place to ensure that every aspect of governance is able to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

“Where we are found wanting, we will be held to account by our courts and, above all, by our citizens.

“Besides our courts, our Chapter 9 institutions exist to advance the rights of citizens, as do the bodies tasked with oversight over the law enforcement agencies.”

Read: 15,515 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa as deaths rise to 264

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Government is using scientific and economic data to make lockdown decisions: Ramaphosa