'United we stand, divided we fall': Political parties unify over coronavirus

Travellers in protective masks at Cape Town International Airport. (Gallo Images, Brenton Geach)
Travellers in protective masks at Cape Town International Airport. (Gallo Images, Brenton Geach)

Political parties presented a rare unified voice when the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), in its final sitting before its activities are indefinitely suspended, debated the coronavirus pandemic, emphasising the need to work together to beat it.

Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla provided an overview of the pandemic to the NCOP, which sat in the Gauteng provincial legislature in Johannesburg on Thursday.

He said 80% of the cases showed mild flu-like symptoms.

"But in 15 to 20% of [infected people] it can then develop into a more serious form of a lower respiratory tract infection, leading to pneumonia or what in medical terms is called fibrosis of the lungs," Phaahla added.


"In 5% of people where it becomes serious, it requires ventilation. On average, in 3 to 3.5% cases, it leads to death."

Phaahla said people who were diagnosed with Covid-19 were not picked up by screening tests at airports because its incubation period was up to 14 days.

He added a basic characteristic of the virus was that infections started slowly then exploded exponentially, saying prevention remained pivotal and emphasised the need for social distancing and basic hygiene.

Phaahla called on MPs to spread the message during the upcoming recess and to "galvanise communities to fall in line".

ANC MP Maurencia Gillion said having an informed understanding of the virus was of the utmost importance and warned against the spread of fake news.

DA MP Mbulelo Bara said it was important that Health Minister Zweli Mkhize released daily updates to stop fake news. "We need to break the chain of infections," he added, saying now was not the time to stockpile goods.

EFF MP Mmabatho Mokause said all parties needed to work together. "This is not a disease of black people. This is not a disease of white people," he said.

Mokause said the virus had shown South Africa should pay more attention to public health care and that the country could not continue to have inequality in health care, with a few people with access to private health care while the rest were reliant on the collapsing public health system.


The deputy chairperson of the NCOP, Sylvia Lucas, said she appreciated how the pandemic had united South Africans.

"Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation. As Parliament, we are in full support of our government's plans to respond to the virus. 

"The time is now most befitting for us to imbue within ourselves a greater sense of political maturity and leadership. We must also work together across the party political spectrum in order to give hope and clarity to our constituencies.

"United we stand, divided we fall," Lucas said.

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