South Africa’s state of disaster is set to end this week – but another extension looms

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will likely extend the national state of disaster by another month this week, as government relies on the regulations to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Government declared a national state of disaster under Section 27(1) and Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act on 15 March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the state of disaster was originally set to lapse on 15 June, the act provides that the state of disaster may be extended by the Cogta minister – by notice in the gazette – for one month at a time before it lapses.

The current extension will end on Thursday, 15 October. However, with the country still sitting with over 50,000 active cases of Covid-19, and over 1,000 new infections every day, it is very likely that the Dlamini-Zuma will again extend the state of disaster.

Push-back

The extended national state of disaster has faced increased scrutiny from business groups and political parties who want the prolonged coronavirus lockdown to end.

The Democratic Alliance on Monday (12 October) called on government to resist the urge to once again extend the state of disaster, and by extension bring an end to lockdown.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said that the state of disaster undermines democracy, oversight, and policy certainty, and entrenches what the party called “bad science”, promoting a climate of fear in the country.

“Extending (the state of disaster) will be no more than a continuation of the government’s attempt to use bad science to promote a climate of fear that gives false legitimacy to the ANC’s growing authoritarianism,” he said.

Steenhuisen said that under South Africa’s level 1 lockdown rules, harm and damage is still being done to certain sectors of the economy – particularly tourism and the alcohol industry. Lockdown also continues to interrupt education, with no benefits to society, he said.

The DA called for the end of the state of disaster and lockdown, highlighting the following areas that were still being negatively impacted:

  • Restrictions on international travel – South Africa resumed international travel on 1 October. Under the level 1 regulations, all travellers from the African continent and from countries outside the African continent with a low rate of Covid-19 infection and transmission will be allowed to enter the country. Government has published an extensive list of ‘high-risk’ countries which are blocked from travelling to the country for leisure purposes.
  • Restrictions on the trade of alcohol – Currently, the sale of liquor is permitted by licensed premises for off-site consumption is permitted from 09h00 to 17h00, from Mondays to Fridays, excluding weekends and public holidays. Liquor may also be sold for  on-site consumption, subject to strict adherence to the curfew.
  • Curfew – Under the country’s level 1 lockdown, every person is confined to his or her place of residence from 00h01 until 04h00 daily, except where a person has been granted a permission for work purposes or is attending to a security or medical emergency.
  • Schools – South Africa’s schools currently use a number of social distancing measures including ‘platooning’  in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Second wave 

While the government has continued to ease lockdown restrictions, it may be hesitant in allowing the state of disaster to lapse as the country still faces a possible second wave of coronavirus infections.

In an interview with eNCA on Sunday (11 October), Health minister Zweli Mkhize said that the country could face a second wave if citizens grow complacent in wearing masks and failing to follow other established safety guidelines.

Mkhize said the number of infections has been around 10,000 per week for about five weeks and there has been an increase in cases in the past two weeks.

“We have to be very realistic here and not deal with it emotionally or try to create a controversy about it,” he said. However, he said that there has not yet been an indication of a second wave in the country.

“It’s a straightforward issue: we cannot tell whether we will get a second wave or not, but the risk is there. At this moment, we have not seen a rise that is indicating there is a second wave but we can’t say people must be complacent,” the minister said.

South Africa has recorded 1,575 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative number of detected cases to 692,471 as of Sunday.

“Regrettably, we report 107 more Covid-19 related deaths: 58 from Eastern Cape, 38 from the Free State, 4 from KwaZulu-Natal, 6 from Gauteng, and 1 from Western Cape.

“This brings the total number of Covid-19 related deaths to 17,780,” said Mkhize.

The cumulative number of tests conducted to date is 4,407,441 with 19,270 new tests conducted since the last report.


Read: Next week’s budget could be make or break for South Africa – here are 9 things to watch out for

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South Africa’s state of disaster is set to end this week – but another extension looms