Government dismisses talk of harder lockdown for South Africa

Government has dismissed ‘rumours’ about the introduction of a second hard lockdown for the country, amid an apparent rise in coronavirus cases.

On Sunday, KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said that a return to a hard lockdown is on the cards, unless the country sees a decline in the number of daily coronavirus cases.

“Looking at the statistics, we can now safely say that we are definitely going back into a hard lockdown if there is no urgent and drastic change in behaviour,” he said.

The premier said that a second wave of Covid-19 will be ‘stronger and deadlier’ – not only in deaths, but also in terms of economic hardship. “There is no use in chasing profits today, only to be shut down by a hard lockdown tomorrow,” he said.

However, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) spokesperson Mlungisi Mthsali told The Citizen that the department has not been instructed to move to a higher or harder lockdown level, calling the buzz around the premier’s comments “rumours and speculation”.

“There have been no discussions, unless it’s still coming.” He said that “a lot of progress has been made since Level 5, 4 and even 3” and he “doesn’t see a likelihood of us moving to a higher level”. 

When asked where the rumours of a stricter lockdown came from, Mthsali said it was likely due to “people” speculating about the rising number of Covid-19 cases. 

“The numbers are growing but we still have excess (hospital bed) capacity. This lockdown was to get us to this point where we feel there is a balance; that there are infections but also hospitals with spare capacity.” 

Do more harm than good 

ETM Macro Advisors founder Russell Lamberti said the lockdown has had and continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of millions of South Africans.

“I am alarmed that another lockdown is being considered after extreme government incompetence and mismanagement during the first hard lockdown,” he said.

Lamberti added that there is no good reason for ramping up lockdown restrictions as they do more harm than good.

“Lockdown restrictions increase destructive and corrupt state actions, and leave businesses floundering in a sea of uncertainty and loss of revenue,” he said.

Lockdown cannot be switched on and off 

A move towards a hard lockdown will have dire consequences for citizens and the economy, said the Free Market Foundation (FMF).

“A hard lockdown affects poorer people much more than those in the middle- and upper-classes who can, often, continue working from home,” said FMF project manager, Chris Hattingh.

Hattingh said that the economy is a ‘living organism’ – from street corners to corporate board rooms – with people making choices, trading with each other, finding ways to improve their own lives and those of their families.

“It cannot simply be switched on and off,” he said.

“To contemplate subjecting people suffering economically and emotionally to another hard lockdown, demonstrates, firstly, a lack of understanding of the effectiveness of lockdown, and, secondly, a lack of empathy and understanding of just how much people are struggling to put their lives back together.”

Extended state of disaster

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

Opposition DA leader John Steenhuisen has 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.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma extended the national state of disaster by a further month on 14 October.

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 it can be extended by the Cogta minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.

In a directive published on Wednesday (14 October), Dlamini-Zuma said that the extension takes into account the need to continue augmenting the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by organs of state to address the impact of the Covid-19 disaster.

The state of disaster is now set to lapse on 15 November.

Read: Premier warns of another hard lockdown for South Africa

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Government dismisses talk of harder lockdown for South Africa