South Africa


Government lays down the law as infections increase to 150

Government lays down the law as infections increase to 150
From left, Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille, Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Minister of Police Bheki Cele. (Photos: Gallo Images / Phill Makagoe) | EPA / Etienne Laurent) | Phill Magakoe / Gallo Images via Getty Images | Leila Dougan)

Public Works has identified 37 of its buildings as quarantine sites. It’s one of a series of steps that include enforcing a 6pm curfew on the sale and consumption of alcohol as well as putting an end to profiteering and stockpiling.

“We are sending all the buildings that are ready to the Ministry of Health, which then goes in to sanitise the building,” said Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille at a briefing on Thursday 19 March in Cape Town.

“Some of these sites will be available to people living in informal settlements where self-isolation and quarantine is not possible. As we confirm sites can be used as quarantine facilities, they are communicated to the minister of health. The process is ongoing.”

Provincial and local governments are onboard: the Free State administration has identified as potential quarantine sites two underutilised hospitals, while the North West has pinpointed 130 sites.

De Lille’s announcements of quarantine site identification and other measures by Public Works – shopping centres agreed to make available their parking lots for mass testing sites – came on the day the rate of Covid-19 infection escalated to 150, up from 116 just a day before.

The State of Disaster regulations that are now in force provide for the compulsory medical examination, testing, treatment and quarantine of anyone suspected or confirmed positive for Covid-19.

Any so-called enforcement officer – defined as soldiers, police officials or peace officers such as metro police or traffic officers – can request such examination, testing and isolation or quarantine. If refused, a person suspected of or already confirmed positive for Covid-19 may be detained for 48 hours pending the application to a magistrate for a warrant of arrest for up to 90 days.

As Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma put it at a ministerial briefing, this time in Pretoria:

“You do not have the luxury of refusing examination, treatment, isolation and quarantine… In every area there will be areas of quarantine, if people can’t be taken care of in their homes.

“These regulations need to be acted on because they are law. The departments will give directives… As the situation evolves, more regulations and directives may have to be issued.”

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola reinforced this:

“What is clear is that the limitations of rights are now being enforced by these regulations… In that regard, we want to see maximum compliance and any failure of compliance will be visited on by the law enforcement agencies”.

The State of Disaster regulations also put in place a booze ban from 6pm to 9am, and on Sundays and public holidays from 1pm, at all places where alcohol is sold and/or consumed – from bars, restaurants, taverns, shebeens or night clubs.

Police Minister Bheki Cele talked tough at Thursday’s briefing, saying police would enforce the regulations.

“Nobody consumes alcohol after six [pm] anywhere in the country except your house. Restaurants, you can continue to eat, but no alcohol. Six [pm] is complete shutdown when it comes to alcohol… That must be clear.”

What was not quite clear was how police would ensure this, given that over the past 26 years of democratic South Africa the SAPS has failed to close down all unlicensed, illegal shebeens and liquor outlets in line with liquor and other legislation.

Perhaps the most significant pro-citizen intervention on Thursday came from Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel, who announced regulations to curb profiteering and stockpiling.

Panic buying over the past few days meant shelves in many retailers were cleared of non-perishables like pasta, rice, tinned food and toilet paper.

The DTI Covid-19 regulations under the Competition Act and National Consumer Protection Act ban excessive price increases on goods like basic food and consumer items, medical and hygiene supplies, emergency items and emergency clean-up products – and medical services for the testing, prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

Any price rise may not exceed the increase of the cost of raw materials and inputs, while the markup may not increase above the average markup over the three months before the Covid-19 disaster declaration.

This covers the whole supply chain to limit price hikes by suppliers.

To prevent stockpiling, the regulations required all retailers to ensure adequate stocks at all times as they limited the quantity of basic products sold to any particular individual.

That list of 22 basic products includes toilet paper, hand sanitisers, facial and surgical masks, disinfectants, cooking oil, maize meal, baby nappies and formula, rice, pasta, long-life milk and frozen vegetables, meat and chicken.

Wholesalers are also included to ensure there’s no stockpiling at cash-and-carry stores.

The National Consumer Commission toll-free hotline to report profiteering is 0800 014-880; the Twitter handle @NCC_COVID19.

Patel said the supply chain remained intact. 

“We are working with retailers and large food producers now to ensure the supply chain from the farm to the factory to the shops remains strong and that basic goods are available to our people.”

Agreement had been reached on no price hikes and measures to limit the number of basic products for purchase at the same time.

But the DTI Covid-19 regulations allow for more stringent measures, while penalties put in place now include fines of R1-million or 10% of turnover and/or up to a year in jail.

“The effect of Covid-19 on the economy is being closely watched. It will have an effect on the GDP [gross domestic product],” said Patel.

“But our key concern now is to save lives and ensure we minimise the economic costs. After we have defeated the virus, we will all have to work together to rebuild the economy.”

Around the same time, by virtual media briefing due to Covid-19, South African Reserve Bank (SARB) Governor Lesetja Kganyago announced a 100 basis points cut to the interest rate.

The MPC [Monetary Policy Committee] decided to cut the repo rate by 100 basis points.  This takes the repo rate to 5.25% per annum, with effect from 20 March 2020. The decision was unanimous. 

“Monetary policy can ease financial conditions and improve the resilience of households and firms to the short-term economic implications of Covid-19. Our decision and its magnitude seeks to do this in the near term,” said a SARB statement.

National Treasury on Thursday also came onboard with its “Instruction No. 08 of 2019/2020” fleshing out the State of Disaster regulation on emergency procurement.

But some work may have to be done on pricing, profiteering and procurement. Public Works is investigating what De Lille described as “immoral”: how one supplier raised hand sanitiser prices from R9.50 to cost government R75.

Cabinet ministers and President Cyril Ramaphosa have burnt the midnight oil since Sunday’s declaration of a National State of Disaster. 

Over the past few days, it emerged that a series of meetings have been held in most portfolios, not only with officials of departments and statutory entities, but private sector players to firm up a consolidated countrywide response across all sectors.

After Wednesday’s meeting with the leaders of political parties represented at Parliament, who pledged their support to measures to deal with Covid-19, Ramaphosa received the support of religious leaders a day later after a meeting at the presidential guest house at the Union Building.

Over the coming days, further briefings are likely as ministers roll out more specific Covid-19 National State of Disaster executive directives. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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