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AfriForum threatens legal action over 'forced quarantine in state camps'

21 April 2020 - 18:24 By Yasantha Naidoo and Zimasa Matiwane
AfriForum has threatened legal action against the government over a directive forcing people who test positive for Covid-19 to be held in government quarantine camps.
AfriForum has threatened legal action against the government over a directive forcing people who test positive for Covid-19 to be held in government quarantine camps.

Lobby group AfriForum has asked the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to overturn a directive forcing people who test positive for Covid-19 to be held in government quarantine camps.

They have given the government 48 hours to do so — or face legal action.

In the letter written by lawyer Daniël Eloff of Hurter Spies, AfriForum said it was concerned that people who tested positive for Covid-19 — or were suspected of having contracted the virus — “will not be entitled to self-isolate to stop the spread of the disease and will instead be forcibly placed into quarantine at state facilities”.

AfriForum complained that amendments to regulations to prevent an escalation of the national state of disaster announced on March 25 empowered the state to prosecute anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 but refuses to be taken to a government-run quarantine camp.

“It also empowers the state to forcibly quarantine people in government camps, even in cases where these people have the means to self-isolate and intend to do so.”

The letter to the minister comes after KZN health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said on Sunday that the provincial government had resolved to discard the policy of self-isolation for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Simelane-Zulu said effective from Sunday, anyone testing positive would be kept and monitored at state-identified quarantine sites.

The declaration came as KZN premier Sihle Zikalala announced a stricter enforcement of lockdown legislature after it emerged that the province had the highest Covid-19 death toll in the country. He also said newly diagnosed positive patients would be “taken” to government-approved isolation sites for treatment.

“The issue with self-isolation, we are saying it is coming to an end,” said Zikalala at a media briefing. “Once we have discovered that you have tested [positive for Covid-19], we take you — and that is the end. Up until you recover, we [will then] release you back into the community.” 

The premier said the decision was made within the framework of the national regulations in terms of government measures to be taken to limit the spread of Covid-19.

AfriForum said the amended regulations “grant overly broad powers to enforcement officers and the state to curb the infection of Covid-19” and were a “gross intrusion and violation of the rights” of people infected with the diseases or suspected of being infected with the diseases.

The organisation asked that the minister also issue a proviso to the regulations that people who test positive and who have the means to self-isolate must be allowed to continue with self-isolation without the threat of being forcibly removed to a government-run quarantine camp, and that the necessary government structures should be informed of this change in the regulations.

Ernst Roets, AfriForum's head of policy and action, said the KZN government made it clear that the national regulation was “irrational, as it provides for measures that are not only draconian in nature, but would also seriously obstruct reasonable efforts to slow the spread of the virus”.

“The decision by the KZN government — which was taken according to the national provisions — is a violation of the most basic freedoms and dignities of people and amounts to a measure that can in no circumstances be justifiable in any democracy that is governed by the principles of freedom, justice and the rule of law,” said Roets.

“Second, the obvious consequence of this measure is that people who experience symptoms of Covid-19 or who discover that they were in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 would simply not subject themselves to testing.

“Third, this decision is clearly irrational in the sense that it places a very heavy and completely unnecessary burden on limited state resources.”

Ministry spokesperson Lungi Mtshali said Dlamini-Zuma's office had not received the letter from AfriForum on Tuesday.