NATIONAL NEWS - Federal DA leader John Steenhuisen called the alcohol and cigarette sales ban under the Level 4 lockdown regulations "irrational" and "a descent into pettiness".
In a digicon regarding Covid-19 on Thursday afternoon, 30 April, Steenhuisen accused the national government of displaying a "fundamental lack of trust" in the people of South Africa who have by and large been adhering to the lockdown rules.
He further said government is not transparent about the statistics and models it is using to base its regulatory decisions on.
Placing a ban on tobacco and alcohol sales does not make economic sense and opens up a huge incentive for a black market trade from which nobody will benefit other than the underground mafia. Government is also forgoing millions of rand in revenue that could be used for services and infrastructure. It also leads to the illegal brewing of liquor at home, which could lead to far more dangerous health outcomes. "South Africa is the only country in which a tobacco and alcohol ban remains in a slightly alleviated level of lockdown. There are a lot of questions as to why that is the case," Steenhuisen said.
He also questioned the rationale behind the 20:00 to 05:00 curfew and the three-hour daily limit on exercise (between 06:00 and 09:00), saying that government is treating citizens like children instead of adults. "Some people have to work during that time and from a health perspective it simply doesn't make health sense to get every South African who wants to exercise out at the same time onto the streets where they're likely to bump into one another."
Of the curfew he said it seems as if some people are "indulging in their fantasies of an authoritarian state" and seemingly, a sense of authoritarianism is creeping in around "what looks like to be a move to central planning on a grand scale of the economy".
Steenhuisen said the DA will be approaching the courts on the issue of using BEE criteria for aid relief. "We want to get clarity from a legal perspective whether in a disaster management situation, any form of discrimination is permitted."
Disappointment among businesses
DA Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry Dean McPherson said there is little difference between the focus on the economy in Level 5 and Level 4 regulations. "There are slight increases in the allowance on manufacturing and a continued unwillingness to move on things like e-commerce, which is a real opportunity to get goods into people's homes without them going into stores."
He said there seems to be "a continued ideological battle" in Cabinet on the fairness of e-commerce, but a big opportunity has been missed to allow businesses that can contribute to the economy and adhere to the health criteria, to do so. "It's been a huge disappointment to businesses that are scratching their heads and wondering how they're going to make it through this next period," and it "brings into question the real meaningfulness of the engagement around the 70 000 submissions" regarding the lockdown regulations.
Steenhuisen questioned the continued restrictions on e-commerce, which in the current environment seems to be preferable to congregating at shopping centres, swiping credit cards and exchanging cash in shops.
"It's relatively easy in current context, where nothing is easy, for a business to move its services online and offer a delivery service."
McPherson quoted Reuters as having reported that 50% of South Africans make use of e-commerce. Furthermore, Amazon statistics showed that they are booming and have appointed 100 000 people to help them cope with the demand. McPherson said there is no rational reason why South Africa cannot embrace e-commerce to its full extent now.
He also said keeping the hair and beauty industry closed, probably till the country reaches Level 1 lockdown, will have devastating consequences for thousands of working-class citizens. It is an industry that can institute health protocols, and services are provided on a one-on-one basis.
McPherson reckons that any business that can practise social distancing, uses PPE and is able to do screening should be allowed to open up. Even those who provide accommodation should be allowed to do so, provided they adhere to strict health measures and limit occupation to, for example, 20%.
He also criticised some of the regulations pertaining to the manufacturing sector which he said don't make sense from a practical point of view and show lack of insight into the sophisticated systems of manufacturing. It could cause further hardships.
Spike in Western Cape Covid-19 cases
DA Shadow Minister for Health Siviwe Gwarube said the Western Cape's spike in Covid-19 cases is a result of the targeted and effective screening and testing approach it has been following to cover as many people as possible. They want to be able to understand community transmission and prevent further spread in areas where people have tested positive, so they target such areas. She said the province has been highly successful and the system should be emulated in the rest of the country.
A total of 3 800 health care workers are doing community screening and in addition, 320 stationary sites for screening and testing have been created. Workplace screening is also done and that is why they have been able to identify businesses where the necessary protocols were not in place. Preventing the virus from spreading is also achieved through these strategies.
Steenhuisen said 16% of tests done in the country are done in the Western Cape despite the fact that the province has 10% of the population. "It ties in with our strategy to test, test, test. The more tests you do, the better your data sets are and the more it informs how you move and manage the virus."
Siviwe said government should be transparent about what data, models and projections it is following in making decisions on lockdown regulations and managing the virus.
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