President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to call a family meeting, either tonight after the ANC’s national executive council meeting or tomorrow, to make a public announcement about new temporary restrictions to manage the possible spread of Covid-19 during the religious holidays.
Different sectors of society and provincial administrations have been in conversation about the matter, and they seem to be divided on the exact approach that needs to be taken.
Government spokesperson Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told City Press this week: “We’re discussing some sort of controls for the holidays. There’s no way we’re going to remain like this, but we’re aware that, whatever we do, we must save lives and livelihoods.
“The possibility of a third wave is serious, but the numbers aren’t pointing to one now, unless people misbehave. People have already lost loved ones, so they’re more careful. It’s unlikely that they’ll go out there and be reckless. By and large, there are high levels of compliance.”
She said the 501Y.V2 variant was still circulating, “but we’re managing it because people are taking protective measures”.
A member of the national command council told City Press: “The ministerial advisory committee suggested to the council that gatherings be limited to 50 people, that a 10pm curfew be imposed, and that we revert to selling alcohol only from Monday to Thursday from 10am to 6pm. However, there was another suggestion from business that the curfew be from 11pm to 4am. All these suggestions are receiving the necessary consideration.”
But government’s decision on which restrictions to impose over the Easter holidays to prevent a spike in infections will be more difficult than before as hospital capacity is no longer the main consideration.
This gives ministers some leverage to push against tighter controls in their own spaces.
On Thursday, during a command council meeting, it was clear that each of the ministers was prepared to take an “aggressive” stance against any strict closures that would affect their constituencies, according to those serving on the council.
“We’re not slacking, but we’re also not going to be draconian. All options are on the table and we’re all open-minded. Of course, everybody starts from their own corners with an aggressive posture,” said an insider, adding: “As a minister, you shouldn’t feel guilty when you meet with your constituents, but you should be able to say: ‘I fought for you.’”
The country’s coronavirus numbers have remained low, despite the threat of a third wave.
Hospital beds are generally available and intensive care units are not as busy as they were a few months ago, when the second wave swept through the country.
BITTER BREW FOR LIQUOR TRADERS
Yesterday, the National Liquor Traders’ Council cautioned against another ban on alcohol sales, saying that the industry was still reeling from the previous three.
“Talk of yet another ban by government is really a slap in the face for a sector that hasn’t recovered from the previous ones. If this unfortunate talk is followed by an announcement of yet another alcohol ban by the president, it will certainly be [perceived as his perspective] that he isn’t concerned about the livelihoods of taverns and shebeen permit-holders – that their plight is something he couldn’t care less about,” the council said.
“Liquor traders reject the notion that seeks to cast the availability of alcohol through legal channels as problematic. It exposes the president’s single-issue way of thinking that banning alcohol will somehow magically allow the country to deal with Covid-19 more efficiently. The president continues to miss the point and he shocks himself into action, rather than providing leadership that enables the economy to function efficiently as we all put our hands on deck to confront the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Experts have maintained that, while there is not yet evidence of a resurgence of infections, South Africans must take it on themselves to avoid the now well-known trappings that may lead to a surge.
Professor Adrian Puren this week told City Press: “The trends for numbers of tests, test positivity, hospital admissions and deaths show that we’re essentially out of the second wave. The epidemic modelling dashboard shows that, overall, there’s a degree of control of the outbreak.”
Puren is the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ divisional head for the Centres of Vaccine and Immunology, Respiratory and Meningeal and Enteric Diseases.
“There are reports reflected in the data of clusters of outbreaks, but no evidence of a resurgence. However, it will be essential to monitor this,” he said.
This week, during an interview with the SABC, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed that the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 had made recommendations about imposing stricter lockdown regulations ahead of the upcoming religious holiday period, but added that there were various consultations still being had in this regard with the business and religious sectors, among other role players.
“We have to take into account a number of issues, such as the fact that we need to discourage any superspreader activities during the Easter long weekend. We also need to watch what happens with inter-provincial movement, which can lend itself towards spreading the infection. Yet we also have to take into account that South Africans have learnt and understood issues of distancing. That’s the kind of balancing we have to do,” said Mkhize.
Regarding the threat of an impending third wave of infections, Puren said: “It’s real, but not necessarily a fait accompli [something that will definitely happen]. Many factors can influence a third wave, including what the movement of people is, the likelihood of superspreader events, the level of immunity in communities and circulating variants, for example.”
Puren said that at this stage, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases did not take an “all-or-nothing” approach to an escalation of lockdown restrictions, but it advised South Africans to ensure that they only made essential movements and adhered strictly to the non-pharmaceutical interventions to which all citizens have become accustomed: regular hand-washing, wearing a face mask and social distancing.
BEING ACCOUNTABLE FOR OURSELVES
SA Medical Association chairperson, Dr Angelique Coetzee, said: “The most important thing is that the public must take accountability for themselves. Each and every one of us must wear a mask, sanitise our hands, keep 1.5m from others and, of course, keep our spaces well ventilated.”
She added: “You can’t expect government to keep stepping in and imposing regulations because people don’t do what’s expected of them. We’ve always said that the country would have to go into strict lockdown if the healthcare system was under pressure, but right now it isn’t. If people adhere to the necessary measures, we should be fine.”
Meanwhile, the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance and the SA Medical Research Council have advised government to introduce precautionary measures, particularly relating to the sale of alcohol, such as reducing its availability by limiting the hours when it can be sold and its advertising and special offers, among other actions.