Government plans to keep several lockdown restrictions in place, even after it has lifted the national state of disaster, says health minister Joe Phaahla.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Phaahla said this is likely to include rules around the wearing of masks, sanitising, social distancing, and limiting the size of gatherings.
“As long as we have the circulation of the virus, especially indoors, we are going to have to continue social distancing.” There will also have to be limits on the size of gatherings until the end of this year. The virus will still be there,” he said.
Phaahla pointed to the UK’s recent decision to lift all restrictions, which led to an uptick in the number of infections.
“Even if you have 1% of seriously ill people, when you have 200,000 infections a day, it’s a big number and can overwhelm health facilities and become a challenge. So we are trying to find the correct combination and legal framework without the Disaster Management Act.”
Phaahla added that work on a vaccine mandate for South Africa is still ongoing, with the government working to ensure people are not denied basic services as part of new regulations on mandatory vaccines.
“We are conscious that this is a matter we cannot avoid forever. We must define the conditions under which we advocate or support mandatory vaccination. The matter is not off the table, it’s taking a bit longer to formulate.”
State of disaster
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that South Africa’s state of disaster will be lifted once other measures to regulate and manage the Covid-19 response are finalised.
In his state of the nation address on Thursday evening (10 February), Ramaphosa said that the end to the state of disaster will be confirmed once new regulations outside of the Disaster Management Act are formulated.
No specific timeline for ending the state of disaster was given.
He noted that South Africa has now lifted nearly all economic and social restrictions, and that the country was now entering a ‘new phase of the pandemic’.
“Our approach has been informed throughout by the best available scientific evidence, and we have stood out both for the quality of our scientists and for their involvement in every step of our response.
“We are now ready to enter a new phase in our management of the pandemic. It is my intention to end the national state of disaster as soon as we have finalised other measures under the National Health Act and other legislation to contain the pandemic.”
The state of disaster is currently set to expire on 15 February 2022. This would make it the 22nd month under the state of disaster since it was declared at the end of March 2020, and the 20th extension of the regulations after their first end date of June 2020.
While the national state of disaster was initially set to lapse on 15 June 2020, the act 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.
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.