Throughout this devastating pandemic, the Western Cape government has focused on getting the balance right: trying to save both lives and livelihoods. We have done everything we can in the most difficult of circumstances to provide a world-class health response that delivers life-saving healthcare to every person who needs it when they need it.
During this time, we have also not been afraid to fight for jobs because having a job is not just a “nice-to-have”. For many people in the Western Cape, it is the difference between putting food on the table and starving.
In effect, we have been responding to two pandemics. One caused by the Covid-19 virus, and the other by growing poverty, unemployment and hunger. Our position remains that both need to be fought with passion and courage because both cost lives — now and in the future.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced additional restrictions for the Western Cape and South Africa last month, taking us to an adjusted alert Level 3, I supported the announcement as a necessary last resort. At the time, the Western Cape was experiencing a significant surge of new infections and hospitalisations, caused by this new highly transmissible variant of Covid-19.
To put it simply, because more people were being infected with Covid-19 at a faster rate, more people were arriving at our healthcare facilities over a shorter period of time. This surge put an enormous burden on our healthcare workers at a time when healthcare worker infections were on the increase at a faster rate.
The surge was also taking place during our festive season period, when more people come together to socialise with family and friends, and when more people arrive at our trauma units as a result of alcohol-related harms.
This was creating a perfect storm that at that moment shifted the balance we had fought hard for. We needed to get the balance right again by helping our healthcare system.
In supporting some of these restrictions (the Western Cape was against the beach ban from the start as it was not based on good scientific advice), we were clear that they needed to be reviewed after 14 days, and every seven days thereafter, based on evidence and data.
It has now been 21 days since that announcement was made and we have to reconsider our position based on the data and evidence available to us. In doing so, we need to ask ourselves: is the balance in saving both lives and livelihoods being achieved? The answer to this question is no.
Key job-creating sectors of our economy are buckling and shedding jobs at a time when we have passed our second wave peak and our platform is successfully responding to the pandemic.
Our health platform response demonstrates this:
At the same time, the Western Cape has brought online capacity to ensure care for every person who needs it:
The evidence and data are clear that the Western Cape has passed its peak, and while there is pressure, we have adequate capacity and resources to provide care to every person who needs it.
On the other side of the equation, the data is clearly pointing to serious economic challenges in the Western Cape that are costing jobs and hurting the most vulnerable in our communities:
When this significant impact on jobs in the Western Cape is considered in relation to our latest health data it becomes clear that a change to existing restrictions is needed in the Western Cape. This needs to be done in a safe way, that does not undermine the health response, and which is based on common sense.
I have therefore written to the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, to request the following changes to restrictions in the Western Cape, as a matter of urgency:
As is clear from the above, we are not requesting a complete lifting of all restrictions as it is important to get the balance right as we continue to exit our peak. In particular, the number of people being permitted to gather should not be relaxed at this point, as there is clear evidence that the greater the number of people gathering in an enclosed space, the greater the risk of infection.
We will continue to monitor our data on a weekly basis and should there be evidence to support additional restrictions being relaxed, we will do so without hesitation.
On alcohol, our government fully acknowledges that the restrictions helped reduce alcohol-related harms over the past two weeks. Over New Year’s Eve in particular, when we usually have full trauma wards, we had a relatively quiet evening. This did help our healthcare workers during an unprecedented surge caused by this new more infectious variant.
With that said, it is simply not possible to ban alcohol indefinitely. As set out above, the sector simply employs too many people and supports too many households for it to be shut down. It is also critical for our tourism and hospitality sector which employs hundreds of thousands of people in our province.
The Western Cape is continuing, as quickly as possible, with the amendment to the Western Cape Liquor Act, to address alcohol-related harms in a sustainable manner because it is clear our deadly relationship with alcohol needs to change urgently.
Finally, it is important that we do not let our foot off the pedal and that we continue to stay safe.
While we are seeing the Western Cape exit its peak, there are still many people who are infected. We, therefore, have to continue to change our behaviour until such time as the pandemic is over.
So please wear a clean cloth mask, covering your nose and mouth, when out in public or with people outside your household; keep your hands clean by washing them regularly and sanitising; avoid the three Cs — crowded places, confined space and close contact; avoid non-essential gatherings; and outdoors is always better and safer, so if you are seeing family members, keep it short, smaller, well-distanced and outside.
If we all keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, we can make sure the Western Cape moves forward again. DM
"I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned." ~ Richard Feynman
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