By Jessie Taylor


South Africans can now have their say on how the country will move towards ending the National State of Disaster. This comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced the further easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

South Africa’s state of disaster was first declared at the end of March 2020 – more than two full years ago. The state of disaster has allowed the government to introduce emergency regulations and restrictions to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In those two years, South Africa has had more than 3.7 million cases and has recorded nearly 100 000 Covid-19 related deaths.


Have your say on future regulations

As a way forward, the Department of Health has published proposed health regulations to deal with Covid-19 and other notifiable medical conditions. This would provide the framework to end the National State of Disaster. The proposed regulations have been opened for public comments to allow average citizens to have meaningful input into the decision-making process, said Health Minister Joe Phaahla.

“This is part of the government`s transition plans from the current National State of Disaster, which has been in place more than two years since it was first declared in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, in order to have a specific legal instrument to manage the current and future pandemics,” he said.

The regulations would deal with aspects such as entry and exit to South Africa, the number of attendees and gatherings and protocols for funerals, among others. The proposed regulations, once approved, will be implemented by the National Department of Health. They will not need to be tabled before Parliament since they are subordinate legislation that has already been delegated to the Health Minister.

The proposed regulations aim to introduce control measures which include the surveillance and the control of notifiable medical conditions; public health measures at points of entry; management of human remains; and regulations relating to environmental health.

In South Africa, notifiable conditions are diseases that may risk public health. If someone is diagnosed with a notifiable condition, health authorities must be informed. Besides Covid-19, other notifiable conditions are tuberculosis, hepatitis, and measles. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa added: “Due to the changing nature of the pandemic, and due to the progress that has been made through our collective efforts, we intend to lift the National State of Disaster as soon as public comment on the health regulations published by the Minister of Health has been completed. These regulations, when finalised, will replace the State of Disaster regulations as the legal instrument that we use to manage the pandemic.”


Urging all South Africans to vaccinate

The government has already eased some restrictions based on low infection rates. 

South Africans are no longer required to wear masks outdoors, although it is still mandatory indoors.

In addition, indoor and outdoor venues are now permitted to take up to 50% of their capacity if there is proof of vaccination among patrons. Otherwise, only 1 000 people will be allowed indoors and 2 000 people outdoors. This regulation is expected to allow sports gatherings, conferences and music performances.

The regulations will also allow travellers to enter the country with proof of vaccination or a PCR test and no longer require every traveller to test.
The easing of restrictions comes as, after four waves of infections, fewer people are becoming severely ill and requiring hospitalisation. This is primarily due to around 60 to 80% of the population having some form of immunity to the virus, non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask-wearing and hand washing, and the health department learning to manage the disease more effectively.

“We, therefore, enter the third year of this pandemic more hopeful than ever before. While the pandemic is not yet over, and while we remain cautious, we see many parts of our daily life returning to normal. We see our economy returning to full operation. We feel the fear and despair of the last two years lifting from our shoulders,” said President Ramaphosa.

However, the government still faces challenges in encouraging South Africans to vaccinate against COVID-19. Only around 44% of adults are fully vaccinated, and 50% have received at least one dose for all adults. In addition, the health department has already been forced to dispose of some vaccines that had reached their expiry date.

The sooner the majority of the population receives their vaccination, the sooner the government will be able to drop further COVID-19 restrictions, said Minister Phaahla.

“We want to balance on the one hand opening up society, opening up social activity, opening up business, and at the same time encouraging people to vaccinate. That’s why our approach is not going to be a reckless one in terms of opening up,” he said.

In addition, the more people who vaccinate, the less chance of new variants of the virus emerging.

“If we are able to reach that 70% of coverage of all adults and of people between 12 and 17 who are also eligible, there would be fewer variants because fewer people would be transmitting the virus,” said Minister Phaahla.

This is especially important as the country prepares for the fifth wave of infections closer to winter.



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