Opposition parties slam government's approach to Covid-19

Zweli Mkhize urges MPs to avoid turning issue into a 'political football'

08 July 2020 - 20:13
Health minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday responded to opposition parties' criticism of the government's approach to fighting Covid-19.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux Health minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday responded to opposition parties' criticism of the government's approach to fighting Covid-19.

Opposition parties have criticised the government's approach to fighting the spread of Covid-19 and some of its decision-making in easing the lockdown.

This comes as health minister Zweli Mkhize earlier told parliament that “the storm that we have consistently warned South Africans about is now arriving", in relation to the expected surge of Covid-19 infections.

According to DA health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube, the government had failed spectacularly to build healthcare capacity, saying its strategy of fighting the virus could not be about “hoping for the best”.

“Government strategy has to be grounded in concrete plans which will force the curve of infections down. This begins with proper resourcing of the health response in order to ensure that provinces are ready to handle the rising numbers of infections,” she said.

She said this would be so that those who require medical help are afforded a bed that is fully kitted with staff and the requisite equipment. This was not being done, she said.

Gwarube said the DA had given the national government conditional support for its efforts to fight this virus.

“We vowed to stand by you as long as you placed the wellbeing of the people of South Africa first. That was the condition. It was never a blank cheque. It was always about the people that we serve,” she said.

“You have let them down and we have withdrawn our support.”

Among the steps that she said needed urgent implementation would be placing the Eastern Cape health department under administration, as provided by section 100 of the constitution.

“The premier of the province has admitted that they have lost the battle against this virus. Hospitals in the province have long reached the full capacity. Healthcare workers are getting infected and those who are left to hold the fort do so at a great cost to their lives.

“This is not the time to choose political allegiances. It is time to save lives.”

Omphile Maotwe from the EFF questioned how Mkhize spoke of a storm that was still coming when SA already has over 216,000 known cases of coronavirus, with almost 4,000 deaths and at least 10,000 positive cases per day over the past week.

She said Italy was at its peak when it had about 129,000 total cases and their daily infections were around 6,000 on average.

“You and the experts you have around you claim that we have not even arrived at the peak of this virus, yet we are averaging 10,000 cases a day. What this means therefore is that when that storm you consistently speak of arrives, we may see death and carnage of apocalyptic proportions,” she said.

“South Africa will be a case study of how not to manage a pandemic. Unfortunately, some of us may be death statistics by the time this is over - if it will ever be over.”

Maotwe reiterated the EFF's call for the racial breakdown of Covid-19 infections and deaths, saying Mkhize has ignored this because “deep down you know that it is black people who die in their numbers”.

“Were it white people, you would not be as careless as you are. Your government’s deep hatred for blacks is unparalleled.”

The IFP's Siphosethu Ngcobo said his party remained concerned about the recent surge in positive cases, especially in Gauteng. The IFP has called for the reinstatement of level 5 in the province.

Ngcobo said the party was concerned about healthcare facilities and schools becoming hotspots for the virus. He said the phased-in approach to reopening schools was ill-informed and contributed to the surge in positive cases.

We are questioning the rationality of the phased-in approach and the inflexible decision to continue with the matric examinations in November. We demand careful consideration of all alternatives to ensure the wellbeing of our children, teachers, and their families,” he said.

ANC MP Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who is also the chairperson of the health portfolio committee, said the problems in the Eastern Cape were “transported” from the Western Cape and were due to systems failure in the DA-led province.

It is the collapse of the system [there] that made us to suffer what we are suffering in the Eastern Cape," he said.

'A political football'

Mkhize called on politicians not to use Covid-19 for political point-scoring.

“What I would like to appeal to the members here, rather than throwing missiles at each other, is to use our energies to go to our constituencies and promote this behavioural change,” he said.

“If we go out to every ward, district, church, mosque, school and in communities and encourage people to take seriously the message of wearing a mask, then we will be able to make a huge dent on the infections.

“We need to try and avoid taking the issue of Covid-19 to be a political football.”

He said all provinces have had their weaknesses and the government's role was to support each one of them. They would not put the Eastern Cape under administration, he said, in the same way they have not done so in Gauteng or the Western Cape.

“We don't believe it's correct for anybody to single out the Western Cape for any reason, as a demonstration of any partisan kind of a performance.”

In response to the EFF, Mkhize said they found that most people did not fill in information relating to their race in the forms when they go for testing. Doctors did not do this either, which resulted in this aspect of patients' information being incomplete.

Mkhize cited various examples of the government's efforts, which he said were to benefit black people in the majority, including increasing social grants, widespread screening and testing, and additional field hospitals.