Ramaphosa’s response to Covid-19 gets a huge thumbs-up

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Ramaphosa’s response to Covid-19 gets a huge thumbs-up

NGOs and health experts praise the government’s ‘measured, responsible and appropriate’ reaction

Journalist
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s swift action has been welcomed.
Firm hand President Cyril Ramaphosa’s swift action has been welcomed.
Image: AFP/Phill Magakoe

If there is one word that sums up the national reaction to government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, it’s “surprise”. 

From NGOs to defence experts to health companies, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s swift action last week has been praised, even if only cautiously in some quarters.

Discovery Group chief executive Adrian Gore said the government’s response was responsible and appropriate and that the company strongly supported Ramaphosa’s measures which would reduce the chance of a widespread outbreak in the country. 

“Research from the Imperial College in London, released on Monday, shows that mitigation measures are profoundly effective until the point a vaccine becomes available – cutting the number of deaths in half when compared to letting the virus run its course,” he said. 

Imtiaz Sooliman, head of Gift of the Givers, also praised the government’s measured response. “They didn’t act in haste, they didn’t start panicking,” he said.

Noting that the travel ban showed that the welfare of SA’s citizens came first, Sooliman said the government had prepared a “brilliant” package. 

“It’s a very serious balancing act to protect [SA’s] citizens without destroying the economy.”

It’s clear that Covid-19 is going to test the capacity of the health system. But from our interactions it is very clear that the government is looking to apply the lessons from Covid-19 responses elsewhere.
Rodd Gerstenhaber, Doctors Without Borders

Sooliman said his phone had not stopped ringing as companies began offering donations of food and medical equipment. The organisation was expecting delivery of 10,000 N-95 masks and 720 bottles of disinfectant on Friday, with a further 50,000 3-tier masks for patients expected on Tuesday.

Siphelele Ngobese, researcher for inclusion and wellbeing at the South African Cities Network, an NGO that promotes good governance and management in SA’s cities, said the level of state coordination had been unprecedented.

“It’s been a moment for testing what a well-coordinated system could look like,” she said. “There’s a lot that the system has learned and is doing. There are still quite a lot of gaps and there’s still quite a lot of work to be done.

Ngobese said the panic showed how the conversation between the government and the people on the ground had regressed. “A moment of crisis brings [that] across more explicitly,” she said. “But in a lot of ways our government system is quite efficient.”

Rodd Gerstenhaber, country director for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) South Africa, said SA’s health department had responded by establishing an efficient crisis management system while calling for support and collaboration as it got to grips with the crisis. 

“It’s clear that Covid-19 is going to test the capacity of the health system,” he said. “But from our interactions it is very clear that the government is looking to apply the lessons from Covid-19 responses elsewhere, and to learn from what others have developed in response to other epidemics.”

Reacting to the government’s decision to declare a state of disaster, defence expert Helmoed Heitman said it was better to “overreact and say sorry later”.

“I am pleasantly surprised that government was able to react so efficiently,” he said.

Transport economist Paul Browning said the government had acted with the best intentions. “In the end, though, it still has to provide the transport service.”

While the feeling was growing that the country would get through the crisis, he said it was important that the lessons were learnt. Office workers, turning out every day in their thousands, have long been a burden on the country’s struggling public transport infrastructure, but now that many people were working from home, that pressure had eased a little. 

“Is it not possible to turn these temporary arrangements into something more permanent?” he said.