Government extends South Africa’s state of disaster as it weighs up lockdown restrictions

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet has approved the extension of South Africa’s national state of disaster by another month.

The extension means that the state of disaster will now run until 15 October 2021.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had not yet officially gazetted the extension at the time of writing.

South Africa 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 national state of disaster was originally set to lapse on 15 June 2020, the act provides that it can be extended by the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.

The government has relied on the state of disaster to introduce and give effect to lockdown restrictions, which it has used to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it has also faced criticism for giving national government wide-ranging powers over the lives of citizens, with almost no limits and little to no oversight from parliament.

On Wednesday (1 September), South Africa reported 9,544 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,787,203.

Deaths have reached 82,496 (+235), while recoveries have climbed to 2,560,605, leaving the country with a balance of 144,102 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 12,841,537 (+273,012).

A move to level 2 

While South Africa has moved past the peak in its third wave of Covid-19 infections, cabinet has again raised concerns about increasing infection reproduction rates.

Minister in the presidency, Mondli Gungubele, said that the government was still considering several factors before lowering lockdown restrictions for the country.

This includes:

  • The Covid-19 case transmission rate;
  • Whether the healthcare sector can sustain an influx in cases; and
  • Whether South Africans followed non-pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing masks and social distancing.

He said that there were no set plans for president Cyril Ramaphosa to address the nation and that the lockdown regulations will continue in line with the latest state of disaster extension.

Some provincial leaders, such as Western Cape premier Alan Winde, have requested that lockdown be reviewed and that the national government look to lockdown level 2 as its next step.

A move to level 2 would see fewer restrictions on the sale of alcohol, a shorter curfew, and for larger gatherings.

Long tail and a fourth wave 

However, health minister Joe Phaahla has warned that South Africa is not yet past the third wave of infections in the country and that it is likely to face a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases in November.

Phaahla said the third Covid-19 wave continues to behave unpredictably and is notably different from the country’s first and second waves.

He said that the long tail of third-wave cases is a particular concern, as the country faces moving from one wave of cases straight into another over the summer.

“The third wave is dragging for longer. Sometimes it looks like there will be a steep downwards trend, and then it rises again.”

In the absence of new variants, what this means is that many South Africans are not observing the prescribed precautions, he said.

“The risk of this is that by the time the fourth wave comes – which is predicted to come around sometime in November, possibly driven by a new variant – it may find us still at the tail end of the third wave, which will mean that our health facilities and our health workers would not have had much rest.

“This is something that is worrying, and we urge all South Africans to observe the known protocols,” Phaahla said.

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Government extends South Africa’s state of disaster as it weighs up lockdown restrictions