Pressure to ease lockdown building
The political fallout over the future of the country’s lockdown continues to heat up among political parties, organised labour and business, despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of possible further easing to Level 3 before the end of this month. The DA will be heading to the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to challenge some of the lockdown regulations including the military-like night curfew implemented as the country moved from lockdown Level 5 to Level 4, the ban on e-commerce, and restrictions on exercise hours.
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen said his party, which had already filed its papers, wanted the restrictions to be reversed immediately as they were “irrationally” implemented by the Covid-19 National Command Council (NCC), which it accused of “authoritarianism and destroying the economy”. These irrational decisions are taken by the NCC because they are acting without any checks and balances.
“The State of Disaster governed by the Disaster Management Act makes zero provision for parliamentary oversight, which means that the secretive NCC actually answers to no one,” Steenhuisen pointed out.
On Wednesday, Ramaphosa announced that the government would further relax Level 4 regulations in relation to business activity in the coming days, with most parts of the country set for Level 3, barring Covid-19 hot spots. But Steenhuisen was adamant that Covid-19 infections would inevitably rise and that the economy had to be opened immediately.
“We cannot remain trapped by the fear of the duration of Covid-19 because this illness could be with us for the next two years. We must learn to manage it and live with it. We have to end the hard national lockdown, and we have to do it now,” Steenhuisen said.
Confirmed Covid-19 infections stood at 12074, with 219 deaths recorded. The ACDP, which is calling for churches to be allowed to open despite concerns that they were a major source of Covid-19 infections, has also joined the DA in calling for the lifting of restrictions in all sectors of the economy.
“According to South African actuaries, if the lockdown is not removed soon, the mortality rate as a consequence of unemployment, malnutrition and hunger will be 29 times worse than Covid-19 itself,” the ACDP warned. Speaking in the Eastern Cape, which he visited to assess the provincial response to Covid-19, Ramaphosa called for patience, saying the country would migrate out of the lockdown period where people would be allowed to lead their normal lives.
Ramaphosa said consultations with various social partners and economic sectors were starting today, which could see Level 3 being implemented earlier than the end of the month. What we need to do is continue changing our behaviour,” Ramaphosa urged. He emphasised that the ending of restrictions would be done orderly to avoid a surge in infections.
“Of course not all of us will agree on the strategic approach that we have taken, but we believe that this is the strategic approach that is appropriate to enable us to save the lives of our people,” he said. The DA has also been in support of the tobacco and liquor industries, as they advocated for the government to allow them to operate during the lockdown.
The two industries are among those waiting for the conclusion of the consultations to see if they would soon be allowed to operate when some parts of the country transfer to a lower level.
While labour federations Cosatu and Saftu welcomed the measured approach to the reopening of the economy, they equally reminded the government that it needed to protect the most vulnerable from the virus. Cas Coovadia, Business Unity SA, said while organised business welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement, most businesses had to be allowed to operate.
“The government must recognise the lasting economic impact of this lockdown. We are of the view that while some restrictions need to be there, the economy must be opened much wider as soon as possible, so that we balance the economic damage and the infections,” Coovadia said. Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel reversed the ban on e-commerce on Thursday, which the DA celebrated as a victory.
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