State of emergency would be 'last resort' against Covid-19: Lamola
The South African government is not ruling out a state of emergency as it braces itself for the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ministers who form part of the government’s response to the virus addressed journalists on Monday morning on the measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize said the government would be monitoring the situation over the next three weeks to determine whether an escalation in the announced measures would be necessary.
“Early action may be unpalatable, it may affect the economy and social life, but it is the lightest you can do in the circumstance. We appeal to people to understand that even if they do not see the disease, we need to prevent escalation,” he said, emphasising that a delayed response would overwhelm the health care system.
“We cannot rule out the possibility of a state of emergency in the future. At some point even a lockdown may become necessary. We are not there yet.”
Justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola said the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, which have never been tested before on a national scale, were the strictest means to limit people's rights at this stage.
He said the government would invoke the powers of the State of Emergency Act when it became necessary — though it would be an extreme measure which was not currently necessary.
“At this stage we are dealing with state of national disaster,” he said.
Lamola explained that the Disaster Management Act enabled the government to suspend or limit some of the rights of citizens enshrined in the constitution.
The president announced on Sunday night that gatherings of more than 100 people were “strictly prohibited”. Schools will be closing from Wednesday and institutions of higher learning have been encouraged to stop contact (face-to-face) lectures. Visitors to patients in hospitals will be limited, as well as at correctional services. Employers are encouraged to allow employees to work from home wherever possible.
The justice minister said he believed that the invocation of the state of national disaster gives sufficient limitation of rights to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Using powers of a state of emergency would be “an element of last resort, if there is a need,” said Lamola.
“We are putting all options on the table, to use all necessary means. The department of justice is drafting regulations if there is a need for declaration of state of emergency,” he said.
Mkhize added that engagements had started with private health care facilities to make their beds available on demand to the government.
The government is also considering dedicated medical facilities at a district level.
“Our private sector has committed to assisting and availing resources to government to set up tracking, tracing and monitoring facilities. It has been proven that [in] those countries that experienced early spikes in the pandemic, these facilities had not been set up and this remains an important element to reducing public transmission,” said Mkhize.
“We are intensifying our testing mechanisms and have also received support to improve the testing process. A solid collaboration between the private and public laboratories is very important. This will ensure that there are no delays in receiving test results.”
The health minister said a high risk came with local transmission of Covid-19.
“Once this infection spreads in taxis, trains [and] informal settlements, it will create a new dynamic. We will need to create quarantine facilities if necessary. It means some might have to move out their homes.”