As the country braces for yet another televised address by the President tomorrow with the expectation of a return to some version of a higher lockdown level over Easter, the DA urges government to trust science, to apply common sense and to make use of its own proven localised plan to contain Covid-19 transmission.
Exactly one year into our lockdown ordeal, the full picture of the damage caused by nation-wide lockdowns has become clear. We know that these lockdowns were not used for their stated intention. We know that, outside of the Western Cape, our country’s healthcare capacity was not significantly augmented, and we know that our track and trace programme never got ahead of community transmission. But yet government persisted with this crude response to the virus because it was the only weapon they seemed to have in their armoury.
Despite all the talk about balancing the protection of lives and livelihoods, it is a balancing act government got very wrong. Lives lost to poverty, hunger and other undetected or untreated disease are just as tragic as lives lost to Covid-19.
With our economy on its knees, more than 40% of South Africans unemployed and poverty and hunger at levels never seen before in our country, we simply cannot afford the blunt tool of nation-wide lockdowns. We should not be considering blanket bans on the sale of alcohol or curfew extensions that achieve nothing other than the decimation of the restaurant industry. The devastation wrought by the past year of lockdown – particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors – will take years to overcome. With many more businesses still on the verge of collapse, we should be doing all we can to save every single job in these sectors.
In the absence of a mass vaccination programme, the best tool in the fight against a possible third wave of Covid-19 transmission is personal responsibility when it comes to mask wearing, hygiene, social distancing and the protection of those who are most vulnerable to the virus. Programmes aimed at effecting behaviour change are effective in slowing transmission without adversely affecting the economy and destroying livelihoods.
In addition to this it is prudent, as we head into the Easter weekend, to also limit the size of gatherings, and particularly indoor gatherings, as these have the biggest impact on the spread of the virus.
What government should also make use of is their very own localised lockdown plan, as we saw last year when Nelson Mandela Bay and parts of the Garden Route were kept under higher lockdown levels due to surges in transmissions there. The data is there for government to use. Where cases, admissions and deaths are declining, as they are in the Western Cape, it makes no scientific sense to impose stricter lockdown levels and threaten businesses and jobs through bans and curfews.
While it is too late to save many thousands of businesses that did not survive the past twelve months of lockdown, it is not yet too late to save those that are now on the verge of ruin. That should be government’s top priority. That, and acquiring the quantities of vaccines needed to return our society to a semblance of normality.
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