Ramaphosa on South Africa’s most controversial lockdown issues – including cigarettes and the NCCC

President Cyril Ramaphosa has provided answers on some of the key concerns around South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown – including the ban on the sale of cigarettes and the role of the National Coronavirus Command Council.

These answers have primarily come by way of written responses to parliamentary questions posed by opposition party members.

Below are some of his most recent responses.

The National Coronavirus Command Council

Opposition parties have questioned the constitutionality of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), and how it appears usurp the powers of structures set up under the Disaster Management Act in determining government’s response to national disasters.

It has also been criticised for operating without any parliamentary oversight.

However, Ramaphosa said that the NCCC was not established in terms of the Disaster Management Act but instead forms part of Cabinet in an advisory capacity.

“The National Coronavirus Command Council – originally known as the NCC – was established as a committee of Cabinet by the Cabinet in its meeting of 15 March 2020,” he said.

He further expanded on the role of the NCCC in decision-making and how it helps formulate lockdown regulations.

“The NCCC coordinates government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The NCCC makes recommendations to Cabinet on measures required in terms of the national state of disaster. Cabinet makes the final decisions.”

In a separate response Ramaphosa added that all cabinet members currently sit on the NCCC  – although this was not originally the case when the lockdown first started.

Ban on the sale of cigarettes

The ban on the sale of cigarettes has been the subject of legal action this week, with the North Gauteng High Court expected to rule on the issue in the coming days.

Ramaphosa said that the decision to promulgate the Disaster Management Regulations, including regulation 27 (of the Regulations), which prohibits the sale of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and related products was taken after careful consideration.

He said this included submissions received as well as relevant medical literature focusing on the effects of smoking on public and individual health, especially in the face of a respiratory illness such as Covid-19.

“After my initial announcement on 23 April 2020, following representations that were made by various organisations and individuals and further consideration of relevant medical studies and advice, a different position was ultimately adopted by the National Coronavirus Command Council and thereafter by Cabinet before the regulations were promulgated,” he said.

“At this stage, it is difficult to determine when the ban on the sale of tobacco and related products will be lifted.

“This will depend on such factors as the progression of the disease in South Africa, the readiness of our health systems and evolving knowledge on the nature and impact of the virus itself.”

Move to a district-based lockdown

Since the start of June, the country has moved to a level 3 lockdown, which has opened up the economy and allowed millions of South Africans to return to work. During this time, however, the number of confirmed infections has trended upwards, and the death toll has surpassed 1,200.

Ramaphosa said that government is prepared to move parts of the country to higher lockdown levels as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.

“While some have tried to downplay the threat posed by the coronavirus, the majority of South Africans have understood its danger and have acted accordingly. Indeed, the patience and solidarity demonstrated by so many South Africans have saved many thousands of lives.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to take whatever action is necessary to safeguard the lives of our citizens. ”

While our country has had sufficient capacity to cope with the rate of infection so far, we continue to monitor the situation closely. If necessary, we will impose a higher alert level in specific parts of the country to prevent a rapid increase in cases.

“It is, therefore, crucial that all South Africans adhere to the restrictions that remain in place and continue to take basic precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

“These precautions remain our best defence against the coronavirus and are necessary to save lives,” he said.

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Ramaphosa on South Africa’s most controversial lockdown issues – including cigarettes and the NCCC