The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling for a debate of national importance in accordance with Section 130 (1-8) of the National Assembly rules to debate the coronavirus and other pandemics.
A debate of national importance will afford the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, to address Parliament and the nation on the readiness of the Department of Health to deal with this global pandemic. Additionally, it is crucial that the executive tables in parliament an inter-ministerial strategy.
The coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the world, having started in China, with cases now being recorded in over 18 other countries. Experts have warned that the Chinese Health System, which is far stronger than the South African one, was rocked by this virus. While there were other exacerbating factors which led to the rapid spread of the virus across China, the reality is that South Africa has deep cause for concern.
A patient has now been identified as infected with the coronavirus in Botswana, our neighbouring country. Effectively, this means that the virus is already at our borders.
It is important that when Minister Mkhize addresses the nation on the issue, that he be accompanied by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Naledi Pandor. Citizens need to know that both these departments are working together with an traversal governmental strategy on dealing with this matter.
It is now clear that the emergency protocols we have put in place may not be enough to prevent the virus from entering our borders, and that stricter measures need to be put in place at all our ports of entry, nationwide. It is now also critical that all airports and other major transport hubs be prepared for the advent of the spread of this virus. We cannot be too cautious on this matter, as millions of citizen lives may be in danger.
The coronavirus can be fatal to any individual with a weakened immune system – given our high HIV/AIDS and TB infection rate, this virus has the potential to destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans.
This matter transcends the Department of Health and demands a deep degree of commitment and attention from DIRCO, as the virus may impact our trade relations. It is thus imperative that the Executive address Parliament with a plan that will be rolled out prior to the virus reaching our people.
To have a debate of national importance is not an alarmist tool, but a way of proactively dealing with this matter. It also ensures that Parliament is at the center of finding solutions to challenges facing our country, given the pandemic.
As South Africa becomes a more global country, we need to have solid strategies to deal with such pandemics – not solely due to the current coronavirus outbreak. The DA will be requesting that this debate be scheduled as soon as possible, as it is essential that we ensure the safety and good health of all our citizens.