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Lockdown: who’s saying what?

By Aarti Bhana and Verashni Pillay

Hi there and welcome to The Wrap: simple news updates for busy people, brought to you by explain.co.za 💁🏽‍♀

Lockdown Level 3 is in sight for large swathes of the country, plus more goods are available on the shelves. Read on to find what’s new and what’s still being fiercely debated.

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EMOJI NEWS INDICATOR

  1. Lockdown: for and against – the debate continues 🧐
  2. ICYMI: What the President said 🗣️
  3. Other news in a nutshell 🗞️

And in your weekly dose of inspiration:

SA launches walkthrough sanitiser booths

The world celebrates International Nurses Day

So, let’s dive in:

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🔊 For the audio version of The Wrap, go here


🗞 For text, keep scrolling

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. LOCKDOWN: FOR AND AGAINST – THE DEBATE CONTINUES 🧐

Latest numbers: 17 May 2020

🔸 439 559 tests conducted
🔸 14 355 confirmed positive
🔸 6 478 recoveries
🔸 261 deaths

To lockdown, or not to lockdown. That is the question fuelling intense debate between the government, medical and scientific advisors, the business and labour community, and political parties – all playing out in the media.

Who’s saying what? 💬

▪️ Scientists

This is a tricky one. This weekend, both News24 and Sunday Times ran reports quoting several scientists from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC). Their view: the lockdown has no scientific basis, and should be ended immediately. The foremost voice of this group is Dr. Glenda Gray, a highly recognised paediatric specialist and HIV vaccine researcher.

But the Sunday Times did not say how many scientists they spoke to. They only quoted three advisers by name, and possibly two more who spoke anonymously. News24, who initially ran Gray’s comments, quoted two more.That makes five MAC members in total, on the record.

The MAC has 51 members, made up of a range of experts responsible for guiding the Department of Health’s response to the pandemic. It is headed by renowned scientist Dr. Salim Abdool Karim.

The Department of Health, and Karim, said none of these scientists had raised these issues in their weekly meetings, and that government has accepted all the MAC’s recommendations. The scientists say they were not consulted enough, particularly about the lockdown regulations.

What to make of all of this heated debate? SA’s foremost health journalist, Mia Malan, pointed out that scientists who don’t feel heard, or feel slighted, will head to the media to amplify their views.

Our analysis: many major publications have taken a stance that the lockdown should end. And they’ve run these scientists as front page news. Taking all this differing information in is challenging. As Malan noted, even scientists have egos. Ending the lockdown is a complex matter, and there are no easy answers. What we’re facing is unprecedented.

As Acting Director-General of Health, Dr. Anban Pillay, rather spicily said: Dr. Gray is a professor in infectious diseases and vaccinology, and not a professor in the implementation of a lockdown and the easing of lockdowns.

▪️ Business and Labour

A valid issue with the lockdown, however, is the bureaucratic lists of what can and can’t be sold.These do not seem to pass the test of rationality, as former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has pointed out. There is also a valid debate on how to ease the lockdown, and when to go to which level.

Many in the business and labour communities are putting their weight behind the call to ease the lockdown further. They say that, in order to save the economy – already deep in the doldrums – government needs to ease restrictions to Level 2 at the least, and they need to do it soon.

Cosatu is also calling for the reopening of the economy, saying ‘you can’t run an economy on food parcels and UIFs forever’. They do however caution that it’s unlikely workers will be protected in crowded public transport and work places.

Meanwhile, the DA opposition is fervently calling for the lockdown to be lifted entirely… and it got messy. 😶 More on that below.

▪️ Government

Government has not been totally dogmatic about the lockdown, so is some of this uproar misdirected frustration with a global problem? Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize again said that extending the lockdown further wasn’t necessary, and that preparations have to be made to open up the country.

So what’s the disagreement here exactly? Perhaps it’s the fact, noted as an aside by Mkhize, that the MAC members were not involved in these preparations to open up the country (remember that bit about egos). Mkhize added that the risk-adjusted approach is there to help people adjust to a new normal, and help delay peak infection until August.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. ICYMI: WHAT RAMAPHOSA HAD TO SAY 🗣️

a. Many South Africans missed seeing their beloved President on their television screens, with repeated calls for him to address the nation again. So on Wednesday, he finally heeded their calls. Most people were eagerly waiting for Ramaphosa to announce that South Africa would move to Level 3 of the lockdown, but alas. While the delay in announcing further easing of restrictions led to some disappointment, here’s the highlights of what he DID say:

🔹 According to the best current estimates, had it not been for the lockdown, over 80 000 South Africans would have been infected and the death rate would have been 8 times higher
🔹 By the end of May, most of the country should be placed into Level 3. Areas with high concentration of infections will remain at Level 4.
🔹 Government will announce amendments to Level 4 regulations
🔹 The government is now preparing for further easing of restrictions on business activity and opening up the economy
🔹 SA has secured an additional 25 000 beds for quarantine facilities, and additional personal protective equipment for health workers
🔹 Screening and testing has been expanded
🔹 R11 billion has been paid out in UIF relief packages to 2 million people, employed by 160 companies
🔹 Government has made mistakes or fallen short of expectations, but where mistakes were made, they will “make efforts to amend these mistakes”. As Nickolaus Bauer points out in his podcast, Ramaphosa should have gone further and openly discussed these mistakes. The reports of brutality by armed forces, which have even led to a High Court judgment against SANDF and JMPD this week, should have been clearly condemned.

b. Here’s what we know so far about the new amendments

🔸 Online shopping and e-commerce are now allowed – you can buy anything except ciggies and alcohol, but remember to wear a mask when you receive your delivery, to disinfect and to support local business – this is the next best thing to help the economy
🔸 Fast food restaurants are open, but only for delivery
🔸 The 6 am – 9 am exercise curfew and 8 pm – 5 am curfews remain in place
🔸 Movement between provinces is prohibited, except for essential work and funerals
🔸 Only 50 people maximum are allowed at funeral gatherings

Read more https://www.gov.za/documents/disaster-management-act-regulations-29-apr-2020-0000

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. THE WEEK IN A NUTSHELL 🗞️

a. Steenhuisen’s meltdown

John Steenhuisen’s shouting match with a journalist this week created quite the storm on social media. When his party made a sweeping claim that South Africans want the lockdown to end, SABC’s Flo Letoaba asked Steenhuisen which South Africans he was speaking for. Things deteriorated from there.

As the DA’s interim leader, Steenhuisen is leading the charge for an abrupt end to the lockdown, saying there is no longer sufficient scientific evidence to continue keeping South Africans at home.

And while some scientists on government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee are saying it might be time to reel in the lockdown, the official opposition have thus far been advised by experts with limited knowledge of epidemiology – the medical field specializing in the spread of diseases.

It’s all a big gamble. Open up the economy too soon, and more people will die from Covid-19. Leave it on lockdown indefinitely, and people may die as they are forced into increasing poverty.

So, while Steenhuisen and the DA may have a point, his tense standoff with Letoaba didn’t endear him to a lot of people. But if we really want to know who Steenhuisen speaks for, the great thing about democracy is that every so often you have an election to see exactly that.

Local government elections are only a year away… and we’ll find out the exact numbers of how many South Africans the DA speaks for. 😶

b. Some prisoners will walk free

President Cyril Ramaphosa has approved the parole of about 19 000 prisoners from 240 correctional centres across the country. The parole only applies to low-risk criminals who have applied for parole in the last five years. Rapists, murderers, terrorists and child abusers will remain behind bars. Prisoners are walking free to reduce overcrowding in prisons, and curb the spread of the virus. Over 170 positive cases have been reported in prisons across the country.

c. As the globe dials back lockdown restrictions, things seem to be gathering momentum quickly

People are flooding not only malls and restaurants, but even beaches are reopening around the world.

As the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season arrives, beaches in the UK, USA, Greece, China, France and Thailand are seeing thousands of people working on their tan.

And although ticketed entry and temperature checks are some of the controls in place to help maintain social distancing, and infection rates are dropping – the danger has not disappeared.

Italy – once the globe’s epicentre of the virus – will reopen gyms, swimming pools and sports centres on May 25, and cinemas and theatres on June 15. Travel to and from Italy, and between the country’s regions, will be allowed from June 3.

But their Prime Minister, Guiseppe Conte, says this is all a “calculated risk” and “the contagion curve” could rise again. Conte, like so many other leaders, is walking a delicate line: restart the economy after two months of lockdown, without risking more death.

Italy says 31 763 people have now died with the virus, the third highest figure behind the US with over 90 000 and the UK with almost 35 000.

People are still dying, and more will continue to die until a vaccine is found. We are by no means out of the woods.

In the US, for instance, Covid-19 has killed more people than soldiers killed in their wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan COMBINED.

d. Obama speaks out

This week, former US President Barack Obama criticised his successor Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

In an online address to graduating college students this week, Obama broke with tradition of staying out of your successor’s politics, and called Trump’s handling of the crisis “an absolute chaotic disaster”.

Trump unsurprisingly reacted with rage, and something about Obamagate which wasn’t too clearly spelled out. Not too surprising, since it is election season with Obama’s old Vice-President due to take on Trump in November 2020.

e. Be on the alert for fraudsters during the Covid-19 crisis

As more and more people work from home during the lockdown, cyber attacks are on the rise. Criminals have quickly seized the opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modes of operation, and developing new online crime strategies. And it’s not only things like hacking into people’s online banking profiles.

Phoney Gucci handbags have been replaced by fake personal protective equipment (PPE) and medicine. Police forces around the world have already seized thousands of counterfeit medical items, including counterfeit substandard protective masks, so-called “corona spray”, fake corona medicine and substandard hand sanitiser.

Interpol has estimated that up to a BILLION EUROS of fake PPE has exchanged hands already. Fraudsters are exploiting fear, and endangering lives, at an enormous profit. 😳

f. Sports returns ⚽️

Germany’s Bundesliga restarted this weekend, and gave a glimpse of what sport may look like in a Covid-19 world.
Played behind closed doors and with some social distancing – only players, the media and technical staff were in the stadium when Borussia Dortmund thrashed Schalke 4-0.
Footballs were disinfected before, during and after the game. And goals were celebrated with elbow bumps before empty rows of seats.

INSPIRATION 💫

▪️ SA launches walk through sanitiser booths

Spray-tan booths have given way to disinfecting booths in the age of Covid-19. Walk-through sanitiser booths can now be found across South Africa. From Soweto to Durban, these innovative tunnel-like structures contain a disinfectant that sprays people before they enter public transport or a supermarket.

The booth, created by Real African Works Industries, operated for the first time as a pilot project at a bus station in Soweto, on Thursday. According to Reuters, similar installations can be seen at other locations, including a train station and a mine in SA. The Coronavirus Monitor publication reported that another prototype of the spray tunnel is currently being used outside Save Hypersupermarkets in Durban.

The disinfectant is meant to kill the virus on the surface, but it should not give people a false sense of security. If someone has the virus, the disinfectant spray cannot cure them, so the necessary hygiene and social distancing measures must still be in place.

Similar inventions were seen in China, India and Pakistan.

▪️ The world celebrates International Nurses Day

In the time of Covid-19, the importance of our healthcare workers, doctors and nurses are clearer than ever. This week, we too would like to send a HUGE shout out to all nurses across the world for their valued efforts and selfless work throughout this crisis. We respect you and we thank you!

If you know a health worker in the public sector who should be recognised, nominate them for the Integrity Icon awards here, a partnership initiative with explain.co.za: bit.ly/IntegrityIconSA

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🔹 The South African Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet on Thursday to announce their new interest rate decision. Economists say another cut is on the cards.

🔹 Economic indicators – South Africa’s mining, manufacturing and retail sales figures will also be out this week.

🔹 And, we’re expecting more news from Parliament on revised Level 4 regulations.

That’s it from us at The Wrap, a product of https://www.explain.co.za/ – simple news summaries for busy people. 💁🏾‍♀

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Till next time, goodbye from Verashni, Nickolaus and Aarti ✌🏽