Repeal of remaining Covid rules on the way?

The Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape has welcomed what appears to be the government’s repeal of all remaining Covid-19 regulations, even as it complained that the move was long overdue.

The DA was responding to a letter sent by Health Minister Joe Phaahla to the members of the executive council (MECs) for health in the country’s nine provinces on Monday.

In the letter, Phaahla suggested dropping all remaining Covid-19 regulations that he described as the “three critical control measures”. These include indoor wearing of face masks, limiting gatherings to 50% of capacity, and the need to present a negative Covid-19 test or a vaccination certificate when entering the country.

Phaahla said South Africa had exited its fifth wave and all regulations “no longer need to be in place at the present moment”. 

Responding to the minister’s letter, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said in a statement on Tuesday: “Finally we may now see an end to all Covid-19 curbs, as I have consistently called for. But it has to be emphasised, it is disappointing that it has taken so long.”

The wearing of masks in public has been compulsory since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, although the rules were relaxed to scrap the requirement when outdoors.

“The reality is that this could have been done earlier,” Winde said.

“We should all expect far greater agility from the National Government if we are to get our economy growing and create the jobs we need to recover [from the pandemic]”.

Winde has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa on two occasions, urging him to lift the remaining restrictions. 

In the most recent letter, sent on 2 June, the Western Cape premier requested an urgent meeting with the President’s Coordinating Council (PCC) in order that it consider new data that supports lifting the restrictions.

Cape Town’s mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis, also welcomed Phaahla’s proposal and urged all health MECs, the cabinet and Ramaphosa to “support recommendations and implement them with no further delay”. 

“The country has clearly exited the fifth wave of infections,” Hill-Lewis said. “In addition to this, the rates of death and hospitalisation in the January and May waves were considerably lower than the previous ones, even though the majority of restrictions had already been dropped.”

In his letter, Phaahla said the current restrictions had remained in place because the government needed to retain mitigating measures as “the status of the epidemic was very concerning and unpredictable”. 

He noted that when the regulations currently in place were promulgated on 4 May, the reported Covid-19 cases showed a significant spike. In mid-April, less than 250 cases were recorded, but this had risen to 3 097 by 24 April. At the beginning of May, the number of cases continued to show an upward trend. 

However, by mid-June, official data reflected a decline in Covid-19-related hospitalisations, infections, the effective reproductive rate of the virus, and in the positivity rate. 

The recommendations from the department of health will be discussed at the PCC meeting on Wednesday morning. 

On Monday, South Africa recorded another 291 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of active infections to 13 851 nationwide.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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