Adriaan Basson

Adriaan Basson: Is the lockdown working or not, President Ramaphosa?

2020-05-11 06:00
Hundreds of pensioners queuing outside the Pietermaritzburg Post Office to receive their social grants.

Hundreds of pensioners queuing outside the Pietermaritzburg Post Office to receive their social grants. (Moeketsi Mamane, The Witness)

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There is a restlessness in the soul of the nation that needs to be addressed. President Cyril Ramaphosa must tell us if we have flattened the curve or not, writes Adriaan Basson.

President Cyril Ramaphosa hasn't spoken to us in 18 days. I can feel it, can you?

There is a restlessness in the soul of the nation that needs to be addressed.

Last week, when a fake message was doing the rounds that Ramaphosa would address the nation, my WhatsApp ping was in overdrive.

The last time the president addressed the nation on the Covid-19 disaster was during his famous "the sale of cigarettes will be permitted" speech on 23 April.

The disaster affects every aspect of our lives and we need to hear from the president regularly.

I don't agree with those who argue that Ramaphosa's legitimacy was fatally injured by his handling of the tobacco matter.

Yes, it could and should have been handled differently, but South Africans are forgiving people and a clear strategy on the way out of lockdown living will redeem his unfortunate faux pas.

When the president (hopefully) speaks to us this week, he needs to be brutally honest in his assessment of the success or not of our prolonged lockdown.

One of the smartest people to be following during this disaster is Professor Alex van den Heever, the public health and poverty guru at Wits.

In a scathing criticism of government's post-lockdown actions published on News24, Van den Heever argues that essentially the lockdown hasn't worked.

He argues compellingly that we haven't reduced the reproduction rate of the coronavirus during lockdown (more people were spreading the virus during lockdown than before); that large provinces like Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Free State are producing "implausibly low increases" because of poor screening, testing and tracing strategies, and that the government's testing capacity is still way too low.

On Sunday, the health department reported 9 615 tests were done by the public sector, while Dr Kamy Chetty, CEO of the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS), promised in March this number would be at 36 000 at the end of April.

Since we have no visibility of the projections and models the government uses to inform its policy choices, it was instructive to read what Dr Harry Moultrie, senior medical epidemiologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), told News24 last week in a rare interview

Moultrie is a member of the ministerial advisory committee, chaired by Professor Salim Abdool Karim, that advises Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on our outbreak. There was "considerable uncertainty" over the spread of the virus and the success of our response.

This must be a major concern for Ramaphosa as he needs the buy-in from 58 million South Africans to keep the lockdown going, with only a few people who have not felt the devastating consequences of an economic shutdown.

Projections from National Treasury is that between three and seven million people will lose their jobs as a result of the lockdown.

This is a big price to pay, but one which the majority of the country tacitly accepted to give the government enough time to prepare our health system for our surge of Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths.

Ramaphosa must tell us how far we are with this project; how many ICU beds and ventilators we still need to import or manufacture to make provision for our surge/peak moment?

We cannot stay in lockdown for 18 months until a vaccine has been found, licensed and available in South Africa - even the doctors, like Mkhize and Karim agree.

We need to get back to work in a responsible way that doesn't cause an unmanageable surge in infections, particularly of people over 65 and those with additional illnesses.

We have seen the majority of South African Covid-19 deaths were people with underlying illnesses.

With very few hospital beds currently being occupied by Covid-19 patients, Ramaphosa will have to explain why the country shouldn't be downgraded to Level 3 or even Level 2 in areas with very few infections.

It really doesn't make sense to keep a town with no or few infections on Level 4.

Finally, the president should announce immediate steps by the department of social development to prevent stampedes, long queues with no physical distancing and technical failures in the future payment of grants and distribution of food parcels.

Scenes from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal of old women lining up for hours undermine the seriousness and legitimacy of government's entire lockdown strategy.

 - Adriaan Basson is editor-in-chief of News24

Read more on:    cyril rama­phosa  |  zweli mkhize  |  coronavirus


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