The last nine days after the extension will be crucial as South Africa tries to revive its ailing economy while grappling with the spread of novel coronavirus.
The cabinet met on Monday to discuss ongoing events and a major socio-economic plan to find ways to ease the impact of economic stagnation on the poor and vulnerable. The outcome of the meeting was not known as of Monday evening.
On Monday night, the anc’s National Working Committee called for an “effective stimulus package” to enable South Africa to deal with the crisis.
The novel coronavirus hit the elderly hardest. Does South Africa have an advantage in terms of its relatively young population?
As of Monday evening, 58 people had died from covid-19, of whom 3,300 had been confirmed.
With nine days to go before the blockade ends, here are five questions experts say the government must address:
- Community communication
- A social and economic assistance strategy
- Increase the number of tests
- Public education campaigns
- Workplace inspections
1. Community communication
In the next nine days, it is crucial to step up testing and control the amount of community transmission. Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chairman of the ministerial advisory committee that advises the government on Covid 19, said it would be crucial to count the number of “actively confirmed cases” and “passively confirmed cases”.
In the previous week, we only found cases passively, we did not take the initiative to test in the community, we did not find the right community health workers to test cases.
“This means that the data the government has is mainly based on people who come to clinics and hospitals for testing. Right now, community health workers are actively looking for potential cases and tracking their contacts.” He said.
The government will not know whether the virus is spreading at all unless it knows how many people are being picked up by community health workers and referred to hospitals and clinics, and how many are coming to hospitals themselves after they develop symptoms.
Professor Karim said he could not assess whether the blockade was effective. He said there were many factors that could affect this, and it was not his area of expertise. But he says community outreach is one of the criteria for assessing the success of the blockade.
Professor Karim had previously been quoted as saying that the blockade had achieved its goal and that there was little to gain from continuing it.
But he explained to News24 on Monday: “I’m not saying the blockade should or shouldn’t end. I’m just suggesting some criteria for this decision. Nor did I say whether the blockade had served its purpose. I had indicated that as of 9 April there had been no rapid increase in cases. I have not expressed any information about whether the blockade should end, because this is not my area.”
2. Economic and social assistance
The government still needs to spend the last nine days trying to get people to understand the basics of the disease.
As fears grow over the prospect of hunger riots, there are growing calls for the government to implement some form of relief for the poor. According to the experts, this could be in the form of a child support benefit or an increase in other social benefits.
The cabinet postponed a social and economic rescue strategy until a meeting on Monday.
Economist Dawie Roodt says it is urgent that the government should open up the economy. “As the terrible damage to the South African economy becomes more and more apparent. The sooner we open up the economy, the better.”
“We know that some groups are more vulnerable than others, like the elderly, people with underlying diseases, they should be given priority, they should be protected. For example, vaccination measures should be put in place in nursing homes and people should be aware of it.” We should still follow social distancing and so on, and I’m not saying we should stop. “But we have to understand that the cessation of social production and activity as a result of the blockade will also lead to many deaths. The economy is not just about the economy, it’s about life, “he said.
3. Increase the number of tests
The government has nine days to significantly increase the number of tests to meet health minister Zweli Mkhize’s target of 30, 000 a day by the end of April.
The Mkhize target of 30, 000 vehicles a day by the end of April is still far from being met. Mkhize admitted on Saturday that while the level of testing had improved significantly, there was still more work to be done. During the week of solstice 19, 12 April, a total of 39,658 examinations were conducted, averaging 4,957 per day, compared with an average of 3,527 examinations in the previous week, for a total of 24,692.
It is also well below the previous target of 10,000 tests a day, which was originally set for mid-april.
So far, only six of the last 14 days have seen more than 5,000 tests in a single day.
Dr Kamy Chetty, chief executive of the national health laboratory services (NHLS), said an important step in increasing the number of tests would be to provide them to hundreds of GeneXpert machines.
Dr Chetty said 10,000 units had arrived in South Africa in the past week and another 20,000 were expected this week. These machines are fully automated and can deliver results in 45 minutes.
“We are still using the Cobas 6800 and 8800 test machines (manufactured by roche). We would also like to get more test parts for this test machine, as these machines are fully automated, but there is a shortage of test parts.
4. Public education campaigns
Kerrin Begg, a public health expert at Stellenbosch university, said there was a need for a “massive education campaign”.
She said it was not clear whether the government’s extensive social media campaign, which regularly provides easy-to-understand infographics and information, would reach residents of the informal settlements.
Many people living in poor areas or in informal settlements have a “total denial” attitude towards covid-19, or are reluctant to reveal their suspected covid-19 if they are afraid of being ostracised because of their symptoms. Begg said quarantine facilities provided by the government have also been resisted.
She says the community has made people aware of their willingness to fight the virus, rather than being treated as sheep and simply following government instructions.
“That’s what’s really missing,” Begg said.
5. Workplace inspections
Begg says ongoing research shows that the disease is highly contagious in the workplace.
In many cases, service personnel are unable to maintain contact distance at work. The solution to this problem can be to ensure that there is no cross-infection between shift workers. For example, different teams enter and exit through different entrances to avoid contact with each other.
Begg says workplace screening is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.