Prominent vaccinologist and an infectious diseases expert Prof Shabir Madhi has called for and end to the State of Disaster and the disbanding of the government’s National Coronavirus Command Council, writes MedicalBrief.
have come out strongly against the national Health Departmentʼs decision to pause its plan to stop the contact tracing and isolation of people exposed to COVID-19.
In a circular just before Christmas, the department said estimates had shown that 80% of the nationʼs population had past infections, providing some immunity, which meant isolation of contacts was no longer justifiable.
“Quarantine has been costly to essential services and society as many people stay away from their work and thus lose their income, and children miss on their schooling,” the department said. “We never identify most high-risk patients.” As a result, it would undertake contact tracing only in cases of cluster outbreaks.
While initially met with praise from health and disease experts, the decision did not last very long, reports My Broadband. The department issued another statement on 28 December 2021 in which it withdrew the circular.
The only reason it gave for its change of heart was that it had been inundated with queries from the media, public, and stakeholders regarding the change.
On Twitter, Wits vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi vented his frustration at what he described as an “astounding u-turn”.
“Can only marvel how NDoH once again clutches defeat from the jaws of victory! The reasons why contact tracing and quarantine are futile in the South African context have been detailed,” he stated. “It might have served some purpose in the distant past and probably still has a role to play where the majority of cases are diagnosed. This is not the case in South Africa, where we identify less than 10% of infections based on reported cases and sero-survey data.”
Madhi slammed the departmentʼs defence of “needing to consult with stakeholders” as “devoid of any substance”, reiterating that the decision to do away with quarantine and contact tracing was informed by science.
His views were supported by Groote Schuur Hospitalʼs head of infectious diseases and HIV medicine, Marc Mendelson, who said: “Contact tracing and quarantine in the South African context never worked and is a ridiculous waste of time.”
Madhi said the real issue might be the “consistent pattern of decision-making” on the part of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and the Health Department.
They appeared to be appeasing different stakeholders while using the “listened to the scientist” phrase as a “whitewash to impose irrational decisions”, he said.
Madhi called the shambolic turn of events “simply ludicrous” and slammed the governmentʼs apparent “inability of rational thought”.
“The next step needs to be the dissolution of the NCCC, so that parliament can start exercising oversight on such matters. The current state of Covid does not merit an ongoing state of disaster in South Africa,” he added.
From a legal perspective, former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng observed that the “Command Council” status quo “is neither constitutional nor statutory” and noted that “more accountability would have been experienced” if parliamentary oversight were in place.
And Gabriel Crouse, head of campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), said while a fire caused extensive damage to Cape Town’s parliamentary complex last week, “a far greater danger to the national legislature is the NCCC now facing a growing backlash after more than 21 months of imposing itself on the country without parliamentary oversight”.
“The Command Council burnt the bridge between the law-makers in parliament and us, the people of South Africa, but now its own credibility is in ashes. Scientists, legal experts, and ordinary South Africans see that the Command Council is an incendiary threat to rights and reason. Brave people are speaking out.”
He added: “Since the IRR launched its campaign against the NCCC in October last year the Command Council’s credibility has been incinerated.”
From Mzwanele Manyi of the Zuma Foundation to Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, the Command Council is unifying South Africans in opposition to what Madhi rightly calls its ludicrous impositions.
“Thousands have signed the IRR petition to disband the Command Council, end the State of Disaster, and amend the Disaster Management Act to stop the 21-month abrogation of parliamentary oversight from happening again,” said Crouse. “As people get back to work we expect thousands more to sign up for a return to proper democracy.”
Winde has long advocated for the state of disaster to be lifted for the economy to recover and had, in fact, petitioned the government to lift lockdown regulations so the economy can recover. He told eNCA in an interview this week that “the health system is coping and there’s no need for the State of Disaster anymore”.
My Broadband article – Disband the NCCC and end the state of disaster — Experts furious over South Africa’s contact tracing about-turn (Open access)
See more from MedicalBrief archives: