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Overwhelming calls from many sectors for remaining Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted

Passengers arriving at Cape Town International Airport. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Passengers arriving at Cape Town International Airport. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 22, 2022

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Cape Town - Ahead of the President’s Co-ordinating Council (PCC) meeting today, there is consensus by various sectors over the remaining Covid-19 restrictions, with overwhelming support for the return to normality.

On Monday, Health Minister Joe Phaahla wrote to health MECs from all provinces following a meeting with the National Coronavirus Command Council in which it was proposed that restrictions related to mask wearing, gatherings and entry limitations no longer need to be kept in place.

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Phaahla said the country was seeing a lower infection rate and has exited the recent spike incidence.

As at mid-June, there was a decline in reported cases, hospitalisations, effective reproductive rate of the virus (0.7%), decline in test positivity rate, and reported deaths.

Phaahla said the recommendations will be discussed in Cabinet and MEC’s were requested to send their responses by midday on Tuesday.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo said Denosa was in support of the return to normality as long as it does not exacerbate the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But it would appear as though the vaccination drive has had a serious positive effect on the number of patients admitted to healthcare facilities.

“We do of course hope that South Africans do not lower their guard, because once we do, we could be inviting more problems into our healthcare system.”

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Delihlazo said an ever-present fear was a return of a Covid-19 wave or high hospital admissions amid a serious shortage of staff, particularly nursing staff.

Provincial Health and Wellness Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said the department was in support of dropping the remaining regulations, but encouraged individual responsibility through voluntary mask wearing especially when in crowds and confined spaces, or when sick.

As at yesterday, (Tues) the province reported 2 923 active Covid-19 cases with 160 cases in public hospitals and 64 in private hospitals. Thirty-six patients are currently in ICU.

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“As our recent data also indicates a decline in all Covid-19 triggers, we now need to learn to live with Covid-19 while continuing to be individually responsible in protecting ourselves and others,” Van der Heever said.

Education MEC David Maynier said his department supported calls to drop the remaining restrictions, including indoor mask wearing.

In support of the lifting restrictions, We Are South Africans founder Gilbert Martin said: “It will be our prerogative to start tackling the government's constant interference in all aspects of our lives, livelihoods and businesses to ensure that they rather spend their time focusing on service delivery and less time messing everything else up that is working.”

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Federated Hospitality Association of SA (Fedhasa) national chairperson Rosemary Anderson said the hospitality sector was among the hardest hit by regulations.

“These regulations have continued to limit normal operations, such as venue capacity, contact tracing, etc., with restrictions of 50% capacity still in place,” Anderson said.

SA Rugby said it had engaged with the government on the issue a number of times.

"We're in constant communication with the government regarding the next steps in the return of spectators to stadiums.

“We really need to start filling up stadiums again, as the financial impact on the game is very big,” SA Rugby spokesperson said.

Retired paediatrician Dr Louis Reynolds said in reality, many people were not sticking to the recommendations.

“Politically, it would be very difficult to try to get these regulations working again.

“I think there is also some politics here that the ANC seems to be losing support hand over fist,” Dr Reynolds said.

Reynolds said mask wearing should be a matter of personal choice and not so much a regulation.

“It seems to me that it is inevitable that this will go ahead, for various reasons and I think it makes sense that the economy does need to get off the ground.

“There is probably some kind of a risk but in the end, it's probably the right thing to do at this stage.”

Sharing Phaahla’s communique online, Professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi said: “At long last coming to grips with the reality.

“Effective end of Covid-19 restrictions.

“Now to work on the collateral economic and other damage of what was self inflicted due to stubbornness of not following the science.”

Premier Alan Winde welcomed the convening of the PCC taking place today, one he has made several previous requests for.

Winde said it is disappointing that it had taken so long and that he would be sharing the province’s position in favour of the removal of the remaining restrictions.

Mayor Geordin Hill-lewis called on all the MECs, the Cabinet and President Cyril Ramaphosa to support Phaahla’s recommendations and implement them with no further delay.

Hill-Lewis said the restrictions were not rationally related to saving lives, and thus unjustified.

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