File Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP
File Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP

Health experts slam calls for reintroduction of hard lockdown rules in Gauteng

Time of article published Aug 2, 2020

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By Roland Mpofu

Health experts have slammed the call made by the embattled Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku to reintroduce hard lockdown regulations, especially targeting Gauteng, saying that it lacked “science” and has caused economic hardships to the ordinary citizens.

Masuku said the call was an attempt to curb soaring Covid-19 numbers. He said lockdown measures - including a ban on alcohol and the curfew - would help stem the spread of the virus he said was threatening to overwhelm the health system.

In March, Masuku said the province was ready for a projected increase in Covid-19 cases, citing the conversion of the Nasrec exhibition centre into a field hospital.

Yet when it was clear that the numbers were rising, he rushed to the national government to intervene by bringing in more restrictions, including the deployment of the army.

As if to heed Masuku’s request, President Cyril Ramaphosa soon after announced a ban on alcohol and introduced a 9pm (has been changed to 10pm) to 4am curfew.

Professor Alex van den Heever, chairperson for social security systems administration and management studies at Wits University’s School of Governance said bringing more restrictions was clearly the wrong decision.

“It is a no-brainer that far less intrusive measures should have been considered to address trauma-related admissions resulting from alcohol abuse. So there was no science behind the intervention. It is quite likely that the alcohol prohibition has a purpose unrelated to the pandemic,” said van den Heever.

He said if the government implemented proper non-pharmaceutical interventions by the end of April, South Africa would have had a less severe outbreak.

“They instead used the modelling information they were receiving to justify a failure to manage the outbreak. They argued they were preparing additional beds but only the Western Cape did this.

“They argued they would implement testing and tracing at scale. None of this transpired. However, what they did achieve was a 10% reduction in economic growth, a tripling of the deficit and inexplicable product bans that appear to have more to do with private agendas than they do with combating the pandemic.”

Independent public health practitioner, Dr Shakira Choonara, said it turns out that there was no peak in July as projected.

“This is a really tough one to point out the exact peak, of course there are estimates, although my opinion would be that we are only set to see things worsen, and worsen substantially given our already failing systems and processes. The cracks are already showing with delayed testing, mixing up of the deceased bodies, and PPE shortages due to corruption.

“I am of the opinion that things could be handled a lot better, be more organised and cushion the blow. We also need the Ministry of Health to continue to release information and be transparent as well on how the alcohol ban has assisted health facilities so that people understand the rationale.

“Regarding a curfew, I am not quite sure what this will achieve and what evidence this is based on the rationale is not clear. With normal activity resuming, that’s where the focus should be on having good measures within the workplace and transportation. Without the rationale for measures, we could easily dip into a dictator state or policy brutality,” said Choonara.

University of Johannesburg Professor Ben Smart said: “One might argue that a blanket ban is unnecessary. I believe the same public health benefits could come by allowing restaurants to serve one or two drinks per person, but that would be tricky to police so the total ban is understandable.”

*Gauteng ANC ordered Masuku to go on leave due to a personal protective equipment tender saga involving revolving around his wife Loyiso and family friends, President Cyril Ramaphosa's spokesperson Khusela Diko, and her husband, Chief Madzikane II Diko. Transport Jacob Mamabolo is the acting Gauteng Health MEC.

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