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150,000 public submissions on National Health Act

More than 150,000 submissions have been made on the amendments to the National Health Act, and the period for public comment has now been extended to 24 April.

In its current form, the Act allows the health minister to “promote, protect, and maintain the health of the population”, but does not give him or the department control over how citizens are treated if they show symptoms of a notifiable illness, like COVID-19.

However, reports Mail & Guardian, there’s been an outcry over the new regulations relating to the surveillance and control of notifiable medical conditions, which describe what the Health Department is allowed to do if someone refuses medical tests or treatment if they are suspected of having a notifiable illness.

If a person refuses to quarantine themselves, or travel to a site of isolation or quarantine facility as directed, a court order must be obtained to compel them to quarantine themselves and travel to such site of isolation, quarantine facility or medical screening, according to the draft amendment.

“The transition from the Disaster Management Act to the National Health Act is simply copied and pasted from the National Disaster Act to the National Health Act,” said Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Michele Clarke, while Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Naledi Chirwa said that under this new amendment, “body autonomy is threatened”.

In defence, Health Minister Joe Phaala said: “We cannot continue using the Disaster Management Act. From a health side … these are not completely new regulations; these are amendments to regulations that have existed since 2017. There is no desire to want to continue to control peopleʼs lives unnecessarily.”

Health director general Dr Sandile Buthelezi said: “The Disaster Management Act was the most viable legislative instrument … Itʼs a tool to manage this virus. We want to keep the bare minimum [regulations] that will assist us to keep infections low and delay any rise in new infections.”

Freedom Front Plus MP Phillip van Staden said that replacing the State of Disaster with new regulations “is a transfer of power from one minister to another”.

In addition to the reaction on the departmentʼs ability to issue court orders against citizens, MPs were concerned that many of the 150,000 public comments sent through email were deleted.

“Emails were sent to me and deleted before they could be read. Will this be audited? Is it a technical issue or human error?” Clarke asked.

EFF MP Dr Suzan Thembekwayo said that extending the public comment period would see submissions surpass 150,000, which would not give the department enough time to go through all of them as carefully as it should. “There is a selective choice of what emails the minister will receive and not receive,” she said.

The public can email comments before 24 April to the health department at tsakani.furumele@health.gov.za or send a message on WhatsApp to 0600 123 456.

 

Mail & Guardian article – MPs worried Health Act amendments will threaten citizens’ autonomy (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

National Health Act replaces SOD but ‘heavy hand’ remains, say critics

 

Court threats over South Africa’s ‘permanent State of Disaster’

 

The real State of Disaster is SA’s new COVID regulations – Scientists’ Collective

 

 

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