Premier Alan Winde. Picture: TWITTER/ALAN WINDE
Premier Alan Winde. Picture: TWITTER/ALAN WINDE

The government is debating how to devise a new legal framework for managing the coronavirus, to enable it to lift the national state of disaster, Western Cape premier Alan Winde said on Thursday.

The three-month state of disaster declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 15 under the Disaster Management Act has been repeatedly extended to allow the government to retain the legal tools needed to impose controls on trade, travel and mass gatherings in response to Covid-19.

More than 696,000 cases and 18,150 deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded in SA since March. The latest extension, announced by co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma on Wednesday, means the state of disaster remains in force until November 15.

“We need to move away from a disaster declaration as soon as possible and we can only do so if we have the right management tools in place,” said Winde.

“The discussion at the moment among various departments is what kind of regulation can we put in place … either within the health department or local government, because this virus is going to be with us for months and maybe even years, until we find a vaccine. We can’t have a disaster declaration in place for months and maybe years,” he said.

Local lockdowns are part of the discussion, he said.

The regulations in force in terms of the national state of disaster make provision for local lockdowns, but the government has so far chosen not to use them.

Earlier this week, health minister Zweli Mkhize briefed MPs on proposed amendments to the notifiable disease regulations to the National Health Act, which would give health authorities greater scope to manage outbreaks. In a last-minute meeting with parliament’s portfolio committee on Tuesday night, he said the intention is to ensure the right legal instruments are in place to manage Covid-19 should the national state of disaster be lifted.

Western Cape head of health Keith Cloete said officials are in a state of “heightened vigilance” after a spike in cases among young adults and teenagers. A cluster of cases among teenagers in Cape Town’s southern suburbs had been traced to a nightclub, and there has also been an uptick in cases among young adults in the northern suburbs, he said.  

“The increase in cases is a wake-up call,” he said.

Officials are worried about a potential increase in Covid-19 transmission during the coming holiday period, as increased socialising and gatherings heighten the risk of super-spreading events, he said. “We are concerned, remain vigilant, and will respond as things unfold. We are making a call for everyone to be responsible.” 

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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