International travel, booze ban and using umhlonyana : 5 key points from Zweli Mkhize's Covid-19 update

16 November 2020 - 12:20 By cebelihle bhengu
Health minister Zweli Mkhize updated SA on his department's approach to ensuring SA does not fall to a second wave of Covid-19.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize updated SA on his department's approach to ensuring SA does not fall to a second wave of Covid-19.
Image: Siyabulela Duda / GCIS

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has explained the government's decision to open South Africa's borders to international travellers during the Covid-19 pandemic and lift the ban on the sale of alcohol, sharing his confidence that stringent health measures will help stop the virus from spreading.

He said the government had considered risks associated with reopening borders, saying these will be managed through effective measures as the country eases back to normality.

He added that there is no current motivation for a second ban on alcohol sales, but said should the situation require certain restrictions, government would respond.

Mkhize was on Sunday addressing the media on SA's readiness to deal with possible Covid-19 resurgence.

Here are five key takeaways from his address:

International travel

The minister said SA opening up its borders to most African countries posed a lower risk of the spread of Covid-19 compared to other countries.

He said one of the ways the government would mitigate the spread of Covid-19 was the requirement that travellers produce a negative Covid-19 test not older than three days upon arrival in SA. Failure to produce this test will see travellers being subjected to quarantine for 10 days. 

“We will continue to be very cautious at that level, but what we think is important is to look at how, as people come in, we reduce the risk. What we need to do is detect when someone gets into the airport whether we can have evidence that they did have the infection in the past three days. We will also be testing whether there is any evidence of active viral infection with them.” 

There is no second wave yet

Mkhize said the second wave had not yet hit SA. He said there was still the opportunity to contain the rising numbers in the Eastern Cape.

“If we don't manage it properly, and we are not able to get it contained, then it might start spreading, because what we are seeing is that activities are still quiet in a number of areas. What we need to remember is that in the previous surge, not all provinces went into a surge at the same time.

“What is important is the overall behaviour of South Africans. If we continue the use of masks, social distancing and sanitisers ... We can contain this and delay it much further.” 

Can we use umhlonyana?

The minister said South Africans who wished to use traditional medicine, particularly umhlonyana, to protect themselves against the virus, could do so. Mkhize said people must be aware that there is no evidence indicating that the herb can cure Covid-19.

“Anyone who wants to use umhlonyana and they know how to use it - it is up to them to use it. There is no issue about it. The main point we are dealing with is that these are natural products that people use and don't need anybody's permission.”

On avoiding and correcting miscalculations 

The minister said the department strived for factual reporting of Covid-19 figures. He said the department would always strive to rectify mistakes where miscalculations are made.

“Every now and again that problem [of miscalculation] will arise. We've seen it in some of the countries as well, where there is a debate about the numbers. The key is that we need to insist on the known methodology of how we do the reporting and we must do our double-checking on how we audit those numbers and counter-check with different agencies of government.”

A second booze ban?

Mkhize said while the sale of alcohol contributed to a spike in admissions and spread of the coronavirus, it would be difficult to restrict when and how people consume alcohol as this could be considered a violation of their rights.

The minister said when the government halted the sale of alcohol during hard lockdown, it had to prove to the courts the negative affect of alcohol consumption on the fight against the virus.

“We don't have yet the basis on which to do the same restrictions that we had done before. Whenever the situation might arise that will require certain restrictions, government will not hesitate to bring those. We are not at that level and we hope that the way we behave might keep the resurgence so far that we don't need the government to be putting up restrictions.”