Workers wear face masks at a fabric shop in Cape Town during the nationwide lockdown. Picture: Reuters/Mike Hutchings
Workers wear face masks at a fabric shop in Cape Town during the nationwide lockdown. Picture: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

There is mounting consensus among doctors, scientists and business owners that the strict lockdown should end. Here are the top six reasons the lockdown should be scrapped in favour of targeted interventions like social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing

1. The lockdown gives the national command council (NCC) extraordinary unchecked power

Government officials can, on a whim, write laws to decide what shoes you can buy or prohibit the purchase of flip-flops. The NCC, formed under the national state of disaster, isn’t subject to parliamentary oversight or required to explain the rationale behind its decisions. Health economist Alex van den Heever tells the FM that he believes this creates a system that allows patronage to thrive, as industries have to beg to be allowed to open.

When trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel relented on earlier inflexible regulations and allowed winter clothes and shoes to be sold, retail CEOs fell over themselves to express “much appreciation” for Patel’s willingness to work with them. Truworths CEO Michael Mark said: “I have been extraordinarily impressed with the minister’s handling of the regulations.”

2. Many of the lockdown rules we’re following are irrational

A law is not rational if it undermines the objective for which it was passed.

The three-hour window for exercise, between 6am and 9am, doesn’t help reduce the viral spread. Having everyone run, walk their dogs or ride their bikes in the same three hours undermines social distancing.

Actually, being outdoors may be safer, provided everyone doesn’t share the same promenade at the same time: civil society group DearSA pointed out in a letter to co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma that one Chinese study analysing 381 outbreaks of cases of more than three infected people concluded that they all occurred in indoor environments.

3. The government is even centralising food distribution

The distribution of food parcels to hungry people is being centralised at depots, with some NGOs even being told to stop giving out food. But there is no need for food parcels to be handed out to long queues.

Sorbet, a private company, decided to give salon staff, who are going without commission or tips, food vouchers (sent via SMS) which can be redeemed at Usave, Shoprite or Checkers stores.

Christian group For SA argued on Monday against centralised control of food for needy people, saying it will “potentially exacerbate the humanitarian crisis brought on by the hard lockdown”.

It added that “many such faith-based groups will potentially face the untenable position of having to disobey government in order to continue to support and care for their own members and community”.

4. A controlled reopening is safer than the black market

Desperate people are running illegal hair salons at their homes. But it is surely better to have a hairdresser open, subject to strict cleaning and social distancing policies, than have individuals going to a secret illegal hairdresser where there is less scrutiny about masks and cleaning protocols.

Sorbet, for example, has designed perspex barriers to be placed between beauticians and customers, with masks and face shields for staff when reopening is permitted. Nail technicians working from home illegally won’t necessarily have the same resources.

On Friday, the liquor industry proposed plans to the government that would govern the sale of alcohol without queues.

Distell proposed a click-and-collect SMS model in townships for people to order liquor and then fetch it without having to stand in queues. It suggested using online delivery and reasonable selling hours at retailers in the suburbs. This is clearly safer than people trying to buy illicit liquor.

5. Test and tracing

One of the purposes of the lockdown was to give the country time to test and trace all cases, and their contacts, to slow the spread of the virus.

But this didn’t work as planned, since testing dropped in the first weeks of the lockdown.

The Western Cape health department is doing more tests per 1,000 people than any other province, says Van den Heever, and more targeted testing of where it believes there are cases. As a result, it is finding more cases in hotspots where there is a suspected spread.

Better testing doesn’t require a lockdown but rather a proper testing strategy and a far quicker test turnaround in getting results.

6. The economically active population is, in general, not at risk

People under 65 generally don’t have a high fatality rate: less than 1% of those infected die.

This suggests that a better strategy to lower deaths from Covid-19 is to look after the elderly: deliver food to their homes, don’t require them to fetch grants, and ensure that when they’re discharged from hospital, they don’t go to nursing homes.

Israel has shown that one can ask those above 65, and those with ill-health based on a risk score, to stay at home.

Academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analysed over 5,683 Covid-19 deaths in the UK, and concluded they were more likely to happen if people were poor, had uncontrolled diabetes and were male. In that study, 51% of the deaths happened in people over 80 years old.

In the US, a study by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) showed that 80% of the 4,500 fatalities were in people over 65.

A responsible virus management strategy, that allows businesses to open responsibly with cleaning protocols in place and allows protection of the elderly, is a better bet than running a country according to the whims of an unaccountable national command council.

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