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

All regulations and directions made in terms of SA’s Disaster Management Act after the declaration of the State of Disaster in response to COVID-19 have been repealed with immediate effect, with the exception of a few “transitional measures”, but critics say the state’s “heavy hand” remains hovering.

MedicalBrief reports that 750 days after President Cyril Ramaphosa advised the nation that is would effectively be cut off from the rest of the world, he acknowledged that the powers granted to the government under disaster legislation “should be maintained only as long as they are absolutely necessary”. The priority now is “to rebuild our country even as this virus remains in our midst”, he said in a televised speech on Monday night (4 April).

The announcement means the pandemic will be managed by the National Health Act. Draft health regulations have been published for public comment, and once the period for public comment closes on 16 April and the comments have been considered, the new regulations will be finalised and promulgated. However, critics have warned that the move is an attempt to maintain powers previously used under the State of Disaster.

Ramaphosa said the move should give all South Africans the confidence to return to the lives they led before the pandemic, “with a few simple adjustments to protect those around us”.

“It should provide our businesses with certainty that they can operate and invest without the prospect of further restrictions,” he added. Ramaphosa was adamant that all the measures that were put in place have yielded positive results. These included preparing medical facilities to tackle the virus, getting millions of people vaccinated, rolling out the R350 social grant which helped thousands of unemployed people, and the relief fund, which assisted businesses during the pandemic.

Daily Maverick reports that the new provide the government with a wide range of powers and have been criticised as “incoherent and illogical” by health experts and as an attempt to maintain powers previously used under the State of Disaster. Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said “we will give our full input, but if the government proceeds with the regulations, we will test them in court”.

“The lifting of the State of Disaster is a huge step but we cannot allow certain elements of the State of Disaster to be perpetuated in the health regulations,” he said.

The DA said the State of Disaster had reached a point where regulations and restrictions were unreasonable and irrational, as the threat had substantially declined with the newer variants. DA shadow minister of health Michéle Clarke urged Health Minister Joe Phaahla to withdraw the “irrational” regulations:

“These regulations are not informed by the latest scientific evidence or expert opinions of various experts both here in South Africa and abroad,” she said.

Calls to finally end the National State of Disaster increased this year after the country experienced fewer hospitalisations and deaths during its fourth wave of Covid-19, driven by the Omicron variant. While lockdown restrictions have progressively eased and most aspects of life have returned to normal, the National State of Disaster has been criticised as unnecessary for reducing the impact of the pandemic, and a burden on the country’s economic recovery.

Trade union Solidarity launched legal action to challenge the ongoing National State of Disaster, but agreed to halt the action when Dlamini Zuma announced the government’s intention to end the state of disaster by 5 April 2022. The DA had also approached the courts.

TimesLIVE reports that since the start of the pandemic, on the worst day SA recorded more than 400 COVID-19 related deaths. This number has decreased significantly, with only 12 deaths were recorded on the worst day last week. “While the pandemic is not over, these conditions no longer require that we stay in a state of national disaster,” Ramaphosa said.

 

TimesLIVE article – After 750 days, President Cyril Ramaphosa ends national state of disaster (Open access)

 

Daily Maverick article – National State of Disaster ends after 750 days, but some regulations remain (Open access)

 

Full speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Most State of Disaster restrictions 'unfit for purpose', say SA's top health experts

 

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

 

DoH warns of chaos if calls to end State of Disaster are heeded

 

SA'S Covid-19 situation — April 9, 2020

 

SA'S COVID-19 situation — 16 April, 2020: Expert panel outlines SA strategy

 

 

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