Updated lockdown rules recommended for South Africa’s elections

The Department of Health has published a new advisory with lockdown recommendations for South Africa’s local government elections on 1 November.

The recommendations were made by health experts on the Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), and suggest that curfew and gathering restrictions could be relaxed on election day itself.

However, stricter enforcement would be adopted in the run-up to the elections to prevent superspreader events.

“Mass gatherings, whether planned or spontaneous, with respect to some election activities, have the potential to increase the risk of transmission. It is envisaged that for the scheduled election date the rollout of the vaccine programme will not have reached sufficient people to have achieved the targeted coverage, even in higher risk populations,” the committee said.

“A number of interventions are needed to ensure safe municipal elections, respecting the public’s right to engage in the democratic process as well as their right to be protected against preventable harm.”

Some of the key concerns and recommendations include:

  • Gatherings: Rallies, as well as house-to-house campaigning in the run-up to the elections, might create outbreak clusters, and compliance with public health and social measures as well as Covid-19 management requirements needs to be monitored by the IEC. In particular, the role of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in enforcing compliance needs to be emphasised.

  • Curfew: Limitations on the number of people allowed at gatherings must be applied consistently to all pre-election activities, including rallies and campaign events. However, such limits and curfews should be relaxed on election day to allow all eligible voters to cast their ballots before midnight.

  • Alcohol: Consideration should be given to the limitation of alcohol sales on Election Day.

  • Screening: The final IEC guidelines should conform with the guidance provided in this advisory and applicable occupational health and safety regulations. There should be screening and occupational health and safety rules for the staff working at voting stations. For these voting stations located at schools, IEC staff should clean up and remove waste materials so there is no need to visit the voting station the following day when regular school can thus proceed.

  • Masks: The enforcement of all public health and social measures, including the wearing of masks, social distancing, sanitising of hands, and increased ventilation, in all indoor and outdoor settings. These must be emphasised and clearly communicated to the public and all political parties. These public health and social measures will apply irrespective of whether a member of the public has been vaccinated or not.

  • Cleaning: Fogging is not an effective measure to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and should not be undertaken at voting stations. Consideration should be given to providing an alternative to inking pens used to touch the thumbs of multiple voters. The IEC needs to ensure masking, ventilation, sanitisation and other public health and social measures inside stations and ablution facilities. SAPS needs to ensure adherence to public health and social standards outside of voting stations. A Covid-19 compliance officer could be provided together with the electoral officer at each voting station.

  • Vaccines: Efforts to encourage vaccine uptake in the period leading to elections should also be increased. Consideration should be given to identifying vaccination opportunities, such as offering vaccinations at voting stations.

South Africa moved to an adjusted level 1 lockdown on 1 October, with the curfew hours now running from 00h00 – 04h00.

In addition, the number of people permitted to attend indoor gatherings now stands at 750 people, while up to 2,000 people may participate in outdoor meetings.

On Monday (12 October), South Africa reported 201 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,912,346.

Deaths have reached 88,346 (+29), while recoveries have climbed to 2,791,794, leaving the country with a balance of 32,206 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 19,242,116 (+200,581).

Read: Ramaphosa signs new municipal laws ahead of South Africa’s elections.

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Updated lockdown rules recommended for South Africa’s elections