Cape Town - After more than two years, South Africa has finally emerged from the government-mandated state of disaster which was implemented to halt the spread of Covid-19.
Making the announcement last night, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that the declaration on March 15, 2020, was unprecedented in South Africa’s history but was necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, preventing more people from getting severely ill and saving countless lives.
“These measures were effective in slowing down the rate of infection, easing pressure on our hospitals, and providing the time we needed to develop the infrastructure, resources and capacity to manage a large number of people who became ill as a result of Covid-19,” Ramaphosa said.
The state of disaster also saw the introduction of the R350 social relief grant which seeks to bring relief to the unemployed, with other measures such as the Temporary Employer / Employee Relief Scheme (Ters).
Ramaphosa said: “All these measures were necessary, not only to respond to the devastating effects of the pandemic on human health but also to limit the great cost to society and the economy.”
But he added that in the context of a free and open democratic society, the additional powers that a state of disaster provided were temporary and limited.
“They should be maintained only as long as they are absolutely necessary,” Ramaphosa said.
Covid’s fourth wave meant the government could relax some restrictions. From 420 deaths a week during the third wave in July last year, the number of weekly deaths had dropped to 12 nationally.
“We are seeing a similar pattern in our health facilities. Of the 108 000 regular beds in the country, only 1 805 are currently occupied by Covid-19 patients.
“Of the 5 600 ICU beds in the country, only 175 are occupied by Covid-19 patients,” Ramaphosa said.
He said certain transitional provisions would remain in place for a period of 30 days after the termination of the National State of Disaster while new regulations in terms of the National Health Act came into effect.
He said the rules on the wearing of masks would remain in place.
Travellers to South Africa would have to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test no older than 72 hours.
Premier Alan Winde, who has been one of the loudest voices calling for an end to the lockdown, has celebrated the “long-overdue announcement”.
“This step ensures a much-needed focus on economic recovery, and will undoubtedly improve confidence in the economy, as we fight the second pandemic of joblessness.”
Winde added that the Western Cape government is closely studying the draft regulations of the National Health Act, which are due to be finalized on 16 April 2022, and will strongly oppose any efforts to sneak unnecessary measures back in.
“Our response will continue to be guided by the best possible scientific advice based on the latest available evidence.
“This announcement now means that each one of us has an important role to play. We should continue to stay safe by practising the golden rules of good hygiene,” Winde said.
“We should also protect those at risk of severe disease, by acting responsibly. And we should get vaccinated, if we haven’t yet been able to: this choice is the right choice to save lives and jobs.”
* Additional reporting by Theolin Tembo.