Coronavirus command council to meet on state of disaster

13 March 2022 - 00:03
By Caiphus Kgosana and Amanda Khoza
The national coronavirus command council will meet on Monday to discuss if SA is ready for the Covid-19 state of disaster to be lifted.
Image: The national coronavirus command council will meet on Monday to discuss if SA is ready for the Covid-19 state of disaster to be lifted.

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) will meet on Monday but it is unlikely to scrap the state of disaster as there is disagreement in the government over how to manage Covid-19 without it.

The meeting was supposed to start on Sunday but it was delayed to give ministers and officials more time to work out appropriate regulations that will kick in once the government ends the state of disaster, due to expire on Tuesday.

The Sunday Times understands there were disagreements in previous meetings over the amount of regulatory authority the health department would have once the pandemic is no longer subject to the National Disaster Management Act.

“There is disagreement over what needs to be done. There is a feeling that the current proposals leave too many powers in the hands of the minister of health,” said an insider privy to discussions.

Officials have had to go back and draft regulations that place ultimate authority with the entire cabinet rather than with a single minister or department.

Once the NCCC reaches its decision, new regulations will be gazetted and President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation.

The state of disaster has been extended on a month-to-month basis and Ramaphosa is likely to announce a further month’s extension if regulations are not ready by Tuesday.   

“He will have to make an announcement on whether they are extending the national state of disaster or lifting it,” said a source who asked not to be named.

Health minister Joe Phaahla previously told the Sunday Times his department was working on health regulations that would guide the rest of society on how to mitigate Covid risks.

He said the regulations would be managed through the National Health Act. “Once the regulations are approved by cabinet, they will be published in the Government Gazette for public comment, as required by law before they become effective,” he said.

“After the necessary processes are completed, the president will make an announcement.”

Another insider said the NCCC would continue discussions on how to fully reopen the economy.

Under level 1 regulations, gatherings are restricted to 2,000 people outdoors and 1,000 indoors. While the curfew has been lifted, nightclubs are still prohibited from operating.

All travellers entering the country are required to produce a certificate of a negative PCR test. 

A senior government official said there was a push to do away with PCR tests for arriving travellers, in common with most other countries. The argument is that fully vaccinated people must be allowed in without having to produce test results as this would especially boost the tourism sector.

“You can’t say you want to resuscitate the economy but continue asking for PCR tests, it defeats the purpose,” said the official.

There were also discussions on doing away with the requirement to wear masks outdoors and sanitise hands. Sporting bodies have requested that fully vaccinated fans be allowed into stadiums to watch live matches, but the government is still working out how to control large gatherings.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams declined to comment when contacted.