OPINION | SA’s Covid plan has become a deadly free-for-all

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OPINION | SA’s Covid plan has become a deadly free-for-all

Government’s early-lockdown precision has vanished, as it appears to have abandoned its responsibility to lead

Sthembile Cele
The nation was still in the dark after President Cyril Ramaphosa's address on Wednesday night.
Bit of a gamble? The nation was still in the dark after President Cyril Ramaphosa's address on Wednesday night.
Image: GCIS

When President Cyril Ramaphosa opened the alcohol tap last month, cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma sent a warning that it must not be a free-for-all – meaning that citizens must drink responsibly.

As Ramaphosa announced a further relaxation of lockdown regulations on Wednesday night, Dlamini-Zuma’s warning came to mind again. It appears as if the government has itself adopted a free-for-all approach when it comes to managing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Make no mistake, there is no silver bullet to the conundrum of saving lives and preserving livelihoods, but the president’s announcement that the further opening – if not complete opening – of the economy suggests the government is now absolving itself of its responsibility to lead.

“Following further discussions with industry representatives on stringent prevention protocols, and after advice from scientists and consultation with premiers, cabinet has decided to ease restrictions on certain other economic activities,” Ramaphosa said in his address to the nation.

These activities include:

  • Restaurants for “sit-down” meals;
  • Accredited and licensed accommodation, with the exception of home-sharing accommodation such as Airbnb;
  • Conferences and meetings for business purposes and in line with restrictions on public gatherings;
  • Cinemas and theatres, to be aligned to limitations on the gathering of people;
  • Casinos;
  • Personal care services, including hairdressers and beauty services;
  • Non-contact sports such as golf, tennis and cricket. Contact sports will be allowed only for training and modified activities with restricted use of facilities.

It’s going to be interesting to see if South Africans will flock to cinemas and casinos in enough numbers to prevent the collapse of those industries. The overhead costs of running a casino surely cannot be covered by 50 people.

There was no detail on plans to lock down some of the areas where the virus is running rampant. The government appears to have abandoned its own risk-adjusted system.

In the first few weeks of the country’s lockdown there was a certain precision to the work of government, which came as a pleasant surprise. This included streamlined and regular communications.

How things have changed. South Africans came to know about “advanced level 3” through the minister of small business in a series of interviews earlier this week. A clear sign that we’re in a free-for-all phase.

Ramaphosa’s speech on Wednesday night left us in the dark about how the government plans to manage the spike of infections in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and (to a lesser extent) Gauteng. There was no detail on plans to lock down some of the areas where the virus is running rampant. The government appears to have abandoned its own risk-adjusted system.

At least three premiers have publicly indicated a need to review the sale of alcohol because of the burden it has placed on the healthcare system – which still looks to be ill-prepared for the coming peak.

It is also unclear whether or not the government capitalised on the first few months of lockdown as it has not been forthcoming on the progress of the series of interventions it had committed to working on. Enforcement of even the higher levels of the coronavirus alert system was poor at best, and implemented on an ad hoc basis.

We will have to adjust as a country to the new normal at some stage. However, the president’s reprimand to those who still refuse to wear masks in public indicates that we are far from making that adjustment.

It makes you wonder how we’re going to manage the spread of this virus in salons, cinemas and casinos.

Indeed it’s a free-for-all, but some will have to pay with their lives.

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