South Africa should not have limitations on gatherings and other existing lockdown restrictions in place, says Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Speaking to eNCA, Madhi said the government should also have lifted its national state of disaster months ago, with the focus shifting to the number of hospitalisations and deaths seen in the country, and not the number of cases reported.
“The lockdown restrictions have been obsolete for some time,” Madhi said. “They are completely obsolete, and are in fact now doing more damage.”
The professor pointed to businesses and entire sectors of the economy that are still struggling to recover from the worst of lockdown, while restrictions that are still in place – on gatherings and events – have been and remain crippled.
Madhi criticised the government and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) for being out of lockstep on these issues, pointing to countries such as the United Kingdom which have allowed large crowds and eased other restrictions without seeing an influx in hospital admissions and death.
South Africa is still tracking the number of infections when it should be looking at hospitalisations and deaths, which have been the lowest since the pandemic began – with some days where zero deaths have been reported, the professor said.
“Simply stated, the National Coronavirus Command Council are completely out of the loop in terms of what is required at this point and time. Unfortunately, the national Department of Health doesn’t seem to be reading from the correct page.”
Madhi said that the government’s target of 70% of the population being vaccinated is also now irrelevant, as between 80% and 85% of the population have boosted immunity against the virus, either from previous infection, the vaccine, or a combination of both.
The mere fact that such a high percentage of the population has immunity despite relatively low vaccine take-up shows, again, that the lockdown restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus failed.
An article published by Mahdi at the start of March indicated that South Africa is moving into the convalescent phase of the Covid pandemic – the recovery phase.
“It depends on what metric you use. If it’s about infections, we’re not at the tail end.
“If it’s about the number of deaths that will transpire from Covid-19 during 2022, relative to the number of deaths that will transpire from other preventable causes of death in countries such as South Africa, then I believe the country has pretty much arrived towards the end of this pandemic.”
Health minister Joe Phaahla says his department has been hard at work to formulate new regulations to replace the country’s state of disaster and is now ready to present its proposals to the cabinet and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).
In a media briefing on Friday (4 March), Phaahla said these recommendations would replace the National Disaster Act.
“We hope the reviewed health regulations and other regulations from other departments will assist in guiding a reopening – especially in the leisure and tourism industries,” he said.
Phaahla said senior government officials are also likely to present policies on vaccine mandates in South Africa in these meetings after holding consultations with the private sector and the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). Phaahla said the NCCC meeting is expected to be held in the next week.
“While there are differing views, the undisputed fact is that the more people vaccinate, the more we can open up the economy and there can be more social interaction,” he said.