The opposition Democratic Alliance has called on the government to allow the national state of disaster to lapse on Saturday (15 January) instead of renewing it for a further month.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said the regulations are no longer necessary for managing the virus but cause undue harm by undermining the country’s social, economic and democratic recovery.
“Investors need it, tourists need it, teachers need it, schoolchildren need it. Schoolchildren need to go to school full time. Not a couple of days a week.
“People need to know they can invest in businesses large or small without the rules of the game suddenly changing. Without investment, there will be no job creation and no sustainable poverty alleviation,” he said.
Steenhuisen also called the National Coronavirus Command Council ‘profoundly undemocratic’ in that it allowed a small group of individuals taking decisions on all our behalf without parliamentary oversight and other democratic checks on power.
While the national state of disaster was initially set to lapse on 15 June 2020, the legislation provides that it can be extended by the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.
It has been enacted for 22 consecutive months since it was first declared at the end of March 2020, while the current extension lapses in mid-January.
The government has relied on the regulations to introduce and give effect to lockdown restrictions, which it has used to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has subsequently faced criticism for giving national government wide-ranging powers over the lives of citizens, with few limits and little to no oversight from parliament.
However, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has confirmed that the government is in the process of developing sustainable regulatory measures needed for the control of Covid-19 beyond the national state of disaster in terms of existing legislation.
In a December parliamentary Q&A, Dlamini-Zuma said that while the government cannot give a specific date on which it will end South Africa’s state of disaster, it was receiving active attention.
“It is important to reiterate that all lockdown restrictions will be lifted and the state of disaster will be terminated as soon as it is determined that the need to augment existing legislation and contingency arrangements through the disaster management regulations is no longer required to assist and protect the public, provide relief to the public, protecting property, preventing or combatting disruption or dealing with the destructive and other effects of the disaster,” she said.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said this week that severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain the virus.
“The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over. We should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases.”
South Africa experienced a steep rise in Covid-19 infections from late November, around the time it alerted the world to Omicron, with new infections peaking in mid-December at an all-time record. However, the government opted not to increase restrictions above an adjusted level 1 lockdown. It subsequently lifted the evening curfew at the end of December.
On Monday (10 January), South Africa reported 2,409 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 3,528,463. Deaths have reached 92,530 (+77), while recoveries have climbed to 3,291,578, leaving the country with a balance of 144,355 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 28,417,574.