'The lockdown is a greater threat to country's health than Covid-19'
CAPE TOWN - DA interim leader John Steenhuisen on Friday called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to end South Africa's six-week-old lockdown, saying it was posing a bigger threat to the country than Covid-19.
Instead, the official opposition wants Ramaphosa's government to increase testing for the virus, isolate the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, and allow the rest of the country to go back to work, amid stringent safety measures.
"Every single business that can safely open, must be allowed to open immediately," Steenhuisen said.
"The real tragedy playing out here is no longer the coronavirus, but the lockdown itself. Because this lockdown is going to cost many more lives than it can possibly save," he said.
Steenhuisen said while imposing a full lockdown in March was "undoubtedly the right thing to do", it had outlived its usefulness in curbing the spread of the disease and was creating damage to millions of lives that would haunt a generation.
He cited projections from the national Treasury that the lockdown in the best case scenario would cost three million jobs and from the South African Revenue Service that it was now looking at a revenue shortfall of R285 billion.
Steenhuisen said unlike European nations that also locked down their economies in response to the global pandemic, South Africa did not have the fiscal resources to recover from such a loss.
"That’s a fifth of our income gone. This is money meant for social grants, it’s meant to pay teachers, nurses, police officers. It’s meant to deliver water and housing," he said.
"We are not the US. We are not the UK, or Germany or Japan. We simply don’t have the means to navigate around this kind of loss. The effect on poor South Africans will be devastating. This is a self-inflicted catastrophe far, far greater than anything the virus could throw at us," he said.
Steenhuisen said he equally support a phased easing of lockdown restrictions, but level four, which took effect on 1 May, was in many instances more draconian than the initial five weeks of confinement, including the introduction of a military curfew. Moreover, it had been imposed with no clear end date.
South Africans were being subjected to "petty, irrational and authoritarian" restrictions that were of no use in fighting the pandemic, which raised questions about the real motive behind the regulations published by Cabinet ministers in terms of the national disaster legislation.
"You have turned the free citizens of the Republic of South Africa into subjects of an authoritarian government. We are no longer dealing with a Covid-19 crisis. We are dealing with a lockdown crisis. An ANC lockdown crisis, to be precise," he said, in remarks aimed directly at Ramaphosa.
He said introducing a lockdown in March required far less bravery than it would to lift it now and deal sensibly with the spike in infections. South Africa currently has more than 8,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, almost half of them in the Western Cape.
Steenhuisen said the government had become secretive about the research and modelling that was motivating the decision to keep the economy at a near standstill.
The DA would therefore launch an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) to obtain the minutes of the meetings of the National Command Council on Covid-19.
"It is crucial that we all know exactly why, according to government, we’re still in this destructive lockdown."
Under level four regulations, about one million South Africans have been allowed to return to work.African News Agency