High time to scrap all Covid-19 restrictions

Issued by John Steenhuisen MP – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
07 Mar 2022 in News

Note to Editors: Please find attached soundbite from the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen MP. 

The Democratic Alliance calls for an end to all Covid-19 restrictions, on the basis that they are doing more harm than good by restricting South Africa’s social and economic recovery.

On 23 March it will be two years since South Africa entered a three-week lockdown to prepare for the Covid-19 epidemic. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, thousands of livelihoods have been destroyed, millions of school and university days have been missed, and billions of rands have been lost to tax revenue, which could have gone to poverty relief.  It is time to focus all of our energies on regaining and transcending what has been lost.

The epidemic phase is over

The fourth Covid-19 wave in December 2021 was not associated with significant hospital pressure. Despite the fourth wave, there have been almost no additional deaths in people under 60 since early September 2021, except for one week over Christmas.

Older people have been less seriously affected than previously too.

This is a result of a combination of prior infection, and vaccination, particularly of the older population, providing protection against severe disease and death.

Cases of Covid-19 are not a disaster if people are not getting very sick nor dying.  This is why European countries have opened up, even with high cases.

The only state of disaster that the country is in, is the self-imposed one caused by ongoing restrictions which do more harm than good.

Level 1 is harming SA.

Level 1 and other ministry-specific restrictions seem harmless, but they are not.

The tourism industry used to support 10 percent of all jobs in South Africa. Its recovery is hamstrung by requirements such as a negative PCR test to enter the country, imposing a significant additional cost. Most countries accept evidence of vaccination or prior infection too, while some, such as Mexico, impose no requirements at all.

While the rest of the world has filled stadiums for sport and shows, in South Africa, the Soweto Derby had to take place in an empty stadium this weekend. Outdoor and indoor limits of 2000 and 1000 prevent the events industry from reviving.

Most of the world has opened its nightlife, but South Africa still bans nightclubs from operating.

No wonder more than half of adults in South Africa are not in employment.

While rotational schooling has thankfully come to an end after the DA filed papers in court, social distancing rules contained in level 1 regulations still apply to all employers, including state departments and agencies, municipalities, universities and banks.

This means many places are still operating on reduced or rotational staff, with lowered productivity all round. It means employees with comorbidities are still “working from home” even if the nature of their job actually requires contact with the public.

People are wasting time in queues and waiting for services. As usual, this is affecting the poor disproportionately, as the poor rely more heavily on government services.

Tertiary institutions are still operating in a hybrid fashion, with negative effects on particularly poorer students, for whom online options are not ideal/available.

Some police stations and other government offices still close for expensive and unnecessary “sanitising” whenever a single Covid-19 case occurs, which is wasteful expenditure.

In South Africa, it is still the law to wear masks in public, including in schools, where they are a barrier to learning and a source of discomfort. In most countries, masks are only mandated in specific high-risk contexts. The requirement to wear masks outdoors is particularly irrational.

Some two-thirds of additional deaths recorded over the last two years were not recorded in hospitals, which means people did not access help when they most needed it.  This was a perverse consequence of the fear generated by lockdown.

Covid-19 no longer a greater threat

It is time to treat Covid-19 in the same way as we treat other health risks, such as HIV, TB, cancer, and maternal mortality.

Like other countries, we need to licence cheap and quick rapid tests for home use so that people can judge for themselves if they pose a risk to the vulnerable. It makes no sense to limit these to medical supervision.

Like other countries, masks should only be mandated in high-risk contexts, such as oncology wards.

Like other countries, we should do everything possible to stimulate our economy toward the return of jobs.

Not justified

Instead, government is planning to make some of these and other restrictions permanent by legislating them.

This will continue to strangle our economy, harm young people in education, and deepen worsening poverty.

The only part of the Disaster regulations that should stay in place is the SOD grant – precisely because of the jobs crisis.

Nothing else is justified.