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Covid-19: ‘Incomprehensible’ to extend state of disaster, says DA leader

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Democratic Alliance (DA) interim leader John Steenhuisen pictured on 9 January 2019 during a press briefing. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

Newly elected DA leader John Steenhuisen has come out guns blazing following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s extension of the national state of disaster by another month, to 15 December, in order to keep Covid-19 prevention measures in place.

Ramaphosa made a number of announcements on Wednesday evening.

South Africa will be allowing tourists from all countries across its borders under an upcoming amendment to the Level 1 Covid-19 lockdown regulations, ending the controversial red-list travel system.

Trading hours will also be normalised, “for instance for the sale of alcohol for retail outlets”.

But Steenhuisen said it was “incomprehensible” that the state of disaster has been extended by yet another month.

“Government cannot keep managing South Africa around a single risk when our nation is so imperilled by far greater risks, such as poverty, hunger and unemployment,” the DA leader said in a statement following Ramaphosa’s address.

“We reject with contempt the veiled threat of a return to higher levels of lockdown.”

Pandemic is ‘far from over’

This came after Ramaphosa cautioned the nation that, although the country had endured a lot, the Covid-19 pandemic was far from over.

Addressing the nation on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa dropped some amended level one regulations.

The president announced a “resurgence plan” would focus on contact tracing, community mobilisation and health system readiness after the rapid spread of the virus in the Eastern Cape.

He also made a strong call to South Africans to always wear masks, stick to social distancing and avoid gatherings to avoid a second wave of infections.

“Wearing a mask every time we leave home is far, far better than a second wave. It is also far better than a return to lockdown and better than having to shut down the economy,” Ramaphosa said.

Steenhuisen disagrees.

“This country is in serious trouble. What people need most right now is maximum freedom and confidence to rebuild the economy and their lives. They need stability and certainty that there will be no return to lockdown, ever,” he said.

“The state of disaster has itself been disastrous, fuelling not just a feeding frenzy of corruption, but also illegal land invasions and lawlessness. Government needs to get its act together and put regulations for Covid-19 in place for a new normal until a vaccination is widely available, so that the state of disaster can end.”

Ramaphosa referred to news this week of a vaccine that may be more than 90% effective.

“This changes our perspective of the future of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “This development brings new hope in our fight against this virus.”

Government should trust people

Steenhuisen said the DA has “long called on government to trust people” to slow transmission through wearing masks, social distancing and practical, common-sense interventions.

Ramaphosa, however, said he is concerned by what he sees on social media – people going to shebeens and taverns, attending gatherings as well as crowds of people not wearing masks. These were super-spreader events which must be avoided, he said.

Steenhuisen reckons the state of disaster, the ongoing lockdown and the “continuous threat of a harder lockdown that still hangs over South Africa” would greatly harm the economic recovery.

“The only way to grow jobs and taxes is through investment in productive enterprises.

“Government needs to understand that investors like certainty and there’ll be no recovery while the state of disaster remains in place.”

Steenhuisen reiterated the DA’s call for government to end the lockdown, end the state of disaster, open the borders, end the curfew and allow South Africa to get back to normal economic activity. The possibility of any more lockdowns must be unequivocally rejected, he said.

Steenhuisen further stated that the Covid-19 fatality rate in developing countries was only about a fifth of the rate in developed countries because of their younger populations.

‘Excuse to run a dictatorship’

“It makes no sense to mindlessly copy far richer, older nations’ responses. Unless, of course, you want an excuse to run a dictatorship.

“Ramaphosa’s Cabinet seem to be the last people in South Africa to understand that we cannot afford the luxury of lockdown and do not need them anyway.”

Reiterating that “millions of jobs have already been lost”, along with thousands of businesses and billions of rand in tax revenue, Steenhuisen said “more devastation is yet to come.”

“People are desperate. Children are starving. The government has nothing to be proud of in their Covid-19 response and everything to be ashamed of.

“Ramaphosa’s Cabinet has accused South Africans of acting ‘recklessly and irresponsibly, as if Covid-19 no longer exists’. People know Covid-19 exists. But they know it exists alongside plenty of other risks they face. They know many of these other risks are greater for them – including the risk of lockdown, which was shown to be far more deadly than Covid in lower income countries due to its effects on poverty, hunger, unemployment, domestic violence and public health in general,” Steenhuisen added.

Steenhuisen said the attempts of millions of South Africans to return to normal economic activity were “sane and sensible”.

“What is reckless and irresponsible is the government’s veiled threat to impose more [lockdowns]. And the fear-mongering and economy-bashing they have indulged in this year as cover to centralise more and more power in the state.

“Stop managing South Africa around a single risk, Mr President. Stop the fear-mongering, stop the economy-bashing and end the state of disaster.”

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