From “too late” to “reckless and senseless”, opposition political parties have reacted to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the easing of South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown from Level 4 to 3, with more concessions for citizens and additional sectors being allowed to operate.
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On Sunday evening, Ramaphosa announced that sectors of the economy which were restricted under levels 5 and 4 would be allowed to open from 1 June after being shut since 26 March.
The president also announced the sale of liquor would be permitted “for home consumption only under strict conditions”. However, the ban on the sale of tobacco products would remain in place under Level 3.
‘Resignation speech from fighting Covid-19, saving lives’
The EFF, which has advocated for a hard lockdown, believes allowing the sale of alcohol and opening additional sectors have ended the lockdown, undermining efforts to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infections.
In a statement on Sunday night, the party said the government’s decision to ease lockdown regulations wasn’t based on a “sound scientific and epidemiological basis”.
“The announcement by Ramaphosa tonight [Sunday] must be read as a resignation speech from fighting Covid-19 and saving lives, especially black lives.
“Tonight’s decision must, therefore, be categorically rejected as reckless and senseless only benefiting the white capitalist establishment at the expense of black people’s lives,” it said.
The party added that the easing of lockdown regulations and the sale of alcohol would see a rise in confirmed cases and an overwhelmed healthcare system due to road accidents associated with the consumption of alcohol.
“Alcohol sale is the effective undermining of all this effort to use hospital space and resources to focus on P2 growing Covid-19 cases. In the next coming weeks, alcohol-related road accidents and interpersonal conflicts will start filling the trauma units in our public hospitals.”
Urging citizens to work together in the fight against the pandemic, Ramaphosa said: “In meeting this grave challenge, we will move ahead as one people, united in action, and determined that we will surely overcome. At this time, more than any other, we are reminded of the words of Madiba, when he said: ‘It is now in your hands.'”
But the EFF believes the idea that “it is now in your hands” means that government has no plan to deal with the pandemic going forward, adding that an option of continuing with the lockdown with a guarantee of food for everyone would be better.
‘An enormous cost to millions’
Meanwhile, the DA believed it was too little too late as the damage had already been done, with thousands losing their jobs due to the lockdown.
The party said government should not have extended the lockdown beyond the initial 30 days.
“Our economy could barely withstand the initial three weeks. This extension has come at an enormous cost to millions, and there is very little to show for it in return.
“For the past month and a half, South Africans have had to sit at home and watch everything they had built up fall apart. Businesses went bust, employees went unpaid, rents accumulated, home loan payments were missed and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs,” interim DA leader John Steenhuisen said after Ramaphosa’s speech.
Steenhuisen said government did not use the past five weeks to prepare itself for a peak in infections and also did not use the time to assist citizens in need.
He said this was evident in the special R350 Covid-19 grant, which many people have not yet been able to access.
The party said it believed there were still “irrational regulations and exclusions” under Level 3 and that there was no reason for businesses such as hair salons to remain shut, if they could operate under the same health protocols as other businesses.
It also said there were no reasons why tobacco was still banned because smokers had not given up on smoking but were instead purchasing illicit packs.
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Steenhuisen said the party was, therefore, calling on Ramaphosa to provide it with scientific justification for the continuation of the ban on cigarettes.
“So while the DA welcomes this move to Alert Level 3, we must stress that it comes far too late for millions of South Africans who have already paid heavily for government’s dithering.”
Contact tracing is a challenge
Good secretary general Brett Herron said the party welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement that the state would be increasing capacity to implement the public health response in Covid-19 hotspots.
However, he said it was clear that adherence to the public health regime had not been consistent, with data indicating that contact tracing had been a particular challenge for the public health system.
“If we are to reduce community transmission in high density areas, where transmission is rising rapidly, we will have to address both the capacity and the built environment obstacles to effective contact tracing and quarantining.”
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