DA leader John Steenhuisen has urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to end South Africa’s COVID-19 state of disaster, saying it is “no longer necessary for managing the virus.”
The state of disaster has been in place since March 2020 and has been extended monthly since then. It will lapse on Saturday, 15 January unless the Cabinet extends it again.
State of disaster ‘doing more harm than good’
In a statement on Tuesday (11 January), Steenhuisen said the state of disaster “is doing South Africa more harm than good by undermining our social, economic and democratic recovery.”
“South Africa needs certainty. 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,” he added.
“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.”
In the latest extension published in December, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the extension was needed to “continue augmenting the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by organs of state to address the impact of the disaster.”
However, Steenhuisen said the initial purpose for the state of disaster, which was to relieve pressure on the health system, is no longer applicable.
“COVID-19 hospitalisation rates are now low across the country, immunity rates (from vaccines or prior infection) are high across the population, the Omicron variant has been shown to be less severe, excess deaths have been mostly normal since September, and the health system has had ample time to prepare in the unlikely event of a new variant that evades immunity,” he explained.
“Furthermore, those in the high-risk group have had ample opportunity to opt for personal protection, with vaccines having shown to be extremely effective at protecting against severe disease and death. So, the state of disaster can no longer be justified on these grounds.”
South Africa is currently on adjusted alert level 1. In December, the Cabinet further relaxed restrictions on outdoor gatherings and lifted a curfew that had been in place for months.
“The National Coronavirus Command Council will continue to closely monitor the situation and will make further adjustments as necessary, particularly if pressure on health facilities increases,” it said.
“The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence. South Africans are urged to continue observing basic health protocols to prevent the transmission of the virus.”