Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a further easing to the level 1 lockdown restrictions, announcing masks would no longer be required outdoors and that venues could take up bigger numbers, provided patrons were vaccinated or if they could produce negative PCR tests.
He also said funerals would be restricted to 200 people instead of the previous 100.
One of those who was critical of Ramaphosa was Wits University’s vaccinologist professor Shabir Madhi, who spoke to broadcaster eNCA, said he was “unfortunately hugely disappointed” by the president’s speech.
He said the mask wearing mandate should have ended six months ago and that the current restrictions and regulations were illogical, irrational and inconsistent.
He said the president had again missed an opportunity “to make a break from the past because we are at a different phase of the pandemic”.
He said the government should, as a matter of priority, be targeting vaccine coverage of over 90% for those who were 50 years or older as the majority of the younger population were no longer susceptible to severe disease and death due to Covid-19.
“The goal is no longer to prevent infection, it is about reducing the burden of severe disease and death.
“All of these regulations have failed dismally at preventing infections,” he said.
Another leading scientist, Tulio de Oliveira of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, expressed exhaustion after the president’s speech.
“I am tired of restrictions. I look forward to walking without a mask and enjoying football at the stadium, as I am vaccinated. I understand the frustration on restrictions (mask inside, PCR to enter South Africa, really after our travel industry suffered?), but better to be careful than sorry.”
I am tired of restrictions. I look forward to walking without a mask & enjoy football at the stadium, as I am vaccinated. I understand the frustration on restrictions (mask inside, PCR to enter SA, really after our travel industry suffered?), but better to be careful than sorry.— Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) March 22, 2022
Kganki Matabane, the chief executive of the Black Business Council welcomed the easing of restrictions but urged the government to read the room as most people in rural areas and townships had already ended the State of Disaster.
“The more these restrictions continue, we run the risk of people ending them themselves.
“People in the townships and rural areas have decided we are tired of this lockdown and we will continue with our lives.
“The advisors would have seen long time ago that these masks have been rendered irrelevant,” he said.
Matabane said as business, they had hoped the president would end the restrictions “totally”.
“We are of the view that small business is at the centre of our economic recovery.
“People should be able to reopen fully so that we can develop jobs in the small business space,” he said, adding that they were confused by how stadiums would be able to control the issue of vaccinated and or spectators with negative PCR tests for sports viewing.
DA spokesperson Cilliers Brink said they were prepared to challenge government on the attempts to make Covid-19 regulations a permanent law through the mooted health regulations should the State of Disaster end.
“Now it will be in permanent law – it assumes Covid-19 is permanent, that cannot be an arrangement put in place as a response to this.
“Up to 80% of the population has survived or vaccinated, there is no basis to say let’s continue.
“So our attorneys have been instructed to monitor the process very closely. We will challenge it if they make it permanent,” he said.
Mmusi Maimane of the One South Africa Movement said the new regulations would be unenforceable and were complicated.
"Just watched Cyril. Should have been an SMS, not a live TV address. Take away: current regulations are complicated and unenforceable.
“They must just scrap the State of Disaster and get on with living amid what is now an ordinary virus,” he wrote on Facebook.
IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said it was time to grow the economy and drag thousands out of poverty.
“We also welcome the fact that steps are being taken to take the country out of the state of disaster.
“We fundamentally believe that the country has turned the corner and we will now need to focus on the greatest responsibility of growing the economy, creating jobs and taking people out of poverty,” he said.
Ramaphosa in his speech said the pandemic and the past two years had shaped the way South Africans lived and admitted it shattered the economy.
“We are now ready to enter a new phase after four waves of infections, fewer people becoming ill.
“Our scientists tell us 60 – 80% have some form of immunity to the virus through exposure and vaccination,” he said.
“ We intend to lift the State of Disaster as soon as public comment on new health regulations has been completed. It will replace the State of Disaster as the new instrument.
“The end of the disaster does not mean the end of the pandemic, it just means we are changing the way we manage the pandemic.
“We will be relying on health regulations and not disaster regulations.
“It means we are returning to the lives we lived before the pandemic, we are resuming the cultural and social activities we have missed in the past two years,” Ramaphosa said.