POLITICS

End the State of Disaster; time to get back to normal ? John Steenhuisen

DA leader says failure to do so is undermining social, economic and democratic recovery

End the State of Disaster, Mr President. Time to get back to normal

11 January 2022

The DA calls on President Ramaphosa’s government to allow the State of Disaster to lapse on Saturday 15 January, the day it needs to be renewed if it is to remain in place.

More harm than good

The State of Disaster is no longer necessary for managing the virus.

On the contrary, it is doing South Africa more harm than good, by undermining our social, economic and democratic recovery.

South Africa needs certainty.

Investors need it, tourists need it, teachers need it, schoolchildren need it. Schoolchildren need to go to school full time. Not a couple of days a week.

People need to know they can invest in businesses large or small without the rules of the game suddenly changing. Without investment, there will be no job creation and no sustainable poverty alleviation.

The National Coronavirus Command Council is profoundly undemocratic. There is great risk to our democracy in a small group of individuals taking decisions on all our behalf without parliamentary oversight and other democratic checks on power.

The State of Disaster has become no more than a cover for increasing centralized control and evading accountability. It must go.

No justification

The purpose of the State of Disaster and associated restrictions is to relieve pressure on the health system.

Covid hospitalisation rates are now low across the country, immunity rates (from vaccines or prior infection) are high across the population, the Omicron variant has been shown to be less severe, excess deaths have been mostly normal since September, and the health system has had ample time to prepare in the unlikely event of a new variant that evades immunity.

Furthermore, those in the high-risk group have had ample opportunity to opt for personal protection, with vaccines having shown to be extremely effective at protecting against severe disease and death.

So, the State of Disaster can no longer be justified on these grounds.
Nor can it be justified with the argument that it should be kept in case of possible future variants or waves.
This is like saying we should keep the State of Disaster in case of possible future earthquakes. It completely undermines the whole purpose of a State of Disaster, which is by definition short-term, just as individuals cannot live constantly in the adrenalin rush of fight-or-flight mode.

South Africa has now been under a State of Disaster for 667 days.
For far too long now, the government has relied on the State of Disaster, instead of doing its job, which is to improve the healthcare system and get vaccines and boosters to as many individuals as possible in the high-risk group.

Unconstitutional

The DA is appealing the dismissal by the High Court to have the Disaster Management Act declared unconstitutional.

Even laws governing a State of Emergency, which is intended for more extreme situations than a State of Disaster, provide for democratic oversight.

It therefore cannot possibly be constitutional for a government to use the Disaster Management Act to bypass democratic institutions indefinitely, as the Ramaphosa administration is currently doing.

Normal lives

The pandemic has become endemic in South Africa. We need to get back to living normal lives, and accept that the virus will continue to circulate, as other viruses do.

Children need to get back to having normal childhoods. We all need to get back to breathing normally.

Rules such as outdoor mask-wearing, hand sanitizing, temperature screening, and contact tracing, testing and isolation of asymptomatic contacts have little benefit and come at enormous social cost.
These rules have become self-evidently irrational, which is why even law-abiding people are disregarding them en masse.

This is undermining the rule of law, and distracting law enforcement from preventing real crimes that have a real impact on public safety.

These rules must be scrapped, and only rational protocols kept, which can be justified on a cost-benefit analysis, such as masking in high-risk settings.

Opportunity

With such a high level of natural immunity from prior infection, South Africa has the opportunity to lead the world in getting back to normal life and in so doing, we can start to rebuild our economy and our democracy.

Let’s seize it.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 11 January 2022