Stage 4 will be a gemors that the state will battle to control: ...

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Stage 4 will be a gemors that the state will battle to control: experts

Different levels for different provinces and metros are a recipe for confusion that government isn’t up to managing

Graeme Hosken, Belinda Pheto, Alex Patrick and Paul Ash
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says government will need to increase the number of tests before thinking about geographical lockdown.
MOVING ALONG Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says government will need to increase the number of tests before thinking about geographical lockdown.
Image: Aron Hyman

Experts have warned that a staggered lockdown, in which provinces and even municipalities operate on different Covid-19 alert levels, will be difficult to police and may be more complex than government systems can handle.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that SA would move to a “level four lockdown” on Friday, with more businesses returning to work, but added that different levels may apply to different areas.

“Because Covid-19 case numbers and rates of infection differ across the country, alert levels will be determined at the provincial and, in some cases, the district level once the full nationwide lockdown ends,” he said.

Several experts surveyed by Times Select warned that a range of factors would make this complicated to manage.

“We are not clear on the objectives of the operational plan or the resources for it. The police have operational plans for disasters such as floods, but this is unprecedented. The new phase adds another layer of complexity,” said Sean Tait, of the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum.

“If the new phase restricts movement between provinces it will be easier to police, but if it comes down to controlling movement between metros, districts, towns and regions within provinces, serious challenges will be encountered.”

Institute for Security Studies policing expert Johan Burger said it was difficult to understand how policing would work.

“When we started with the national lockdown, that was complex enough. Now extra layers are added.”

He said it might be difficult for law enforcers to understand the regulations, adding that even initial lockdown regulations caused confusion.

“If the police struggle to understand and enforce the new regulations, can you imagine how difficult it will be for soldiers who are not used to these kinds of operations.

“It’s paramount that steps are put in place to ensure the military are properly trained in the regulations and their enforcement, especially given the number of incidents we have seen where the police and military got it so horribly  wrong, with fatal consequences.”

Eldred de Klerk, a comparative policing and social conflict specialist at the African Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis, said it boiled down to preparation.

“There is absolutely no room for confusion. It needs to be spelt out exactly who must stay at home and why. Things like going out for exercise must be clearly explained. People must know when and where they can exercise.”

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the geographical lockdown would have to consider that many provinces are attached to economic hubs in other provinces.

“There are people commuting from KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga to Pretoria and Joburg daily. So government should really have information about the movement of people. When they choose this route, they must have definite stats, highlighting the high-risk areas and movement of people,” said Mathekga.

“This is a very sophisticated model, with a high margin for error, especially because we have limited data on testing. Government will need to increase the number of tests before even thinking about geographical lockdown.”

Dr Ina Gouws, political studies and governance expert at the University of the Free State (UFS), said corruption, poor skills and mismanagement meant the government did not have the capabilities to handle the complex phasing-in system.

Her colleague, Dr Johannes Belle, a disaster management expert, said the success of the operation would depend on how the public adhered to the changeover from level five to level four.

“Social distancing was a great headache during phase five lockdown and there is no guarantee it will be observed during the phase four. Masks were scarce and so was the availability of sanitisers. These are becoming readily available at reasonable prices, but still beyond the reach of the majority of poor and vulnerable people.

“We are left with constant washing of hands with soap, but we do not move around with water and soap. Therefore this measure is more effective indoors, which is not where the main problem is,” said Belle.

“There is time and opportunity to address all these concerns to prevent chaos and confusion. Public trust and participation is essential for this process to succeed. This is an opportunity to use an enormous crisis to put these principles at the centre for a change.” 

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