National state of disaster ‘no longer justified’

AfriForum and DearSA launched an application in the High Court in Pretoria seeking a declaration of the Covid pandemic no longer being a disaster.

Calls for the scrapping of the national state of disaster – which the country has now been under for almost two years – ramped up this week, with lobby groups AfriForum and DearSA turning to the courts.

The two on Wednesday launched an application in the High Court in Pretoria in which they want an order declaring that the Covid pandemic is no longer a disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) and setting aside the latest extension of the national state of disaster to 15 February.

AfriForum’s Ernst Roets in the founding papers identified three reasons they maintained it was no longer justified.

The DMA defines a disaster as being “of a magnitude that exceeds the ability of those affected by the disaster using only their own resources”.

And it provides for a national state of disaster when “existing legislation and contingency arrangements do not provide for the national executive to deal effectively with the disaster” or under “other special circumstances” warranting it.

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But Roets argued the Covid pandemic was not of the requisite magnitude anymore.

“Second, existing legislation
and contingency arrangements provide effective mechanisms for the executive to deal with the virus and, third, there are no other special circumstances that warrant the declaration of state of disaster,” he added.

Experts and academics last month wrote a piece – published in Daily Maverick and from which AfriForum and DearSA quoted in their papers – voicing their support for the national state of disaster to be lifted and recommending “a risk-adjusted approach where scarce resources are much more targeted and the negative consequences of increasingly irrelevant measures, best described as Covid theatre, are discarded”.

This week, Cabinet announced significantly relaxed restrictions – including no isolation for people who tested positive for the virus but were asymptomatic, decreased isolation of seven days for people who were symptomatic and the resumption of full-time learning at schools.

Dr Atima Mosam, a public health medicine specialist, said on Thursday a move in this direction was a good thing.
She said it appeared an acknowledgment by South Africa – and many other countries – “that we are moving to a phase of the pandemic where we can now start concentrating on recovering many systems that were impacted during Covid”.

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“Relaxing these restrictions helps free up resources and signals a move towards an integration of Covid into the current health system,” she said.

But she emphasised that vaccinations were not a replacement for masks and social distancing.

“They should be seen more as an adjunct,” she said.

“We need to focus on mask-wearing and social distancing and being vaccinated – it’s not an either or – and that especially for now at least it would be helpful for us to continue to maintain those measures.”

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