Opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) interim leader John Steenhuisen on Thursday said government’s lockdown plan to fight the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is not affordable.
In a virtual address, Steenhuisen said his party had, what he called ‘a concrete plan’, that would ensure better healthcare treatment for all South Africans, as well as a far stronger prevention campaign to minimise the imminent strain on the country’s healthcare system.
He said the plan was critical to mount an effective defence against the pandemic, because government’s alternative – indefinite lockdown – cannot be an option.
“Our plan takes into account the many challenges unique to South Africa, the biggest of which is undoubtedly the incapability of a State hollowed out by cadre deployment and corruption – all under the guise of ‘empowerment’ – to make critical decisions within a short timeframe and then implement these decisions efficiently across equally incapable provincial and local government landscape,” said Steenhuisen.
He said drawing from the experiences of the Western Cape over the past three months, the DA’s plan focused on ten areas for efficient decision-making structures, including a coordinated testing programme, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation facilities, a communications campaign, evidence-based protocols and regulations for non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), field hospitals, oxygen, staffing and reprioritised funding.
Steenhuisen said the State did not have the capacity to weather the Covid-19 storm alone.
“The State alone does not have the capacity to oversee or implement a Covid strategy. The decision-making process in a crisis needs to be swift and responsive, and it needs to draw on the expertise and the capacity of a wide range of players outside of government and the state,” he stressed.
Steenhuisen warned that if the country did not expedite Covid-19 decision-making through parallel structures, and bring in more outside experts, as well as the private sector, the results would be dire for millions of vulnerable South Africans.
He explained that the country’s challenges in areas such as funding, skills, supply chain, testing capacity, and the distribution of healthcare staff, could be overcome if South Africa circumvented, where possible, and augmented where necessary, the “incapable State”.
Steenhuisen expressed concern that as the country was nearing its peak, it was already clear that the healthcare capacity in the vast majority of the country was nowhere near sufficient to respond to this surge.
South Africa has 500 000 critical care hospital bed days available for the second half of this year. At the current trajectory the country may need as many as 2.9-million critical care hospital bed days over this period. This means that five out of every six citizens requiring critical care may be turned away.
“On the prevention side, the public sector is only conducting 13 000 tests per day, which is far short of its 36 000 target and well below the private sector’s rate of 37 000 to 38 000 tests a day. If public and private testing capacity is brought into one unified strategy, we could get on the offensive to suppress the epidemic. At the same time, the contact tracing programme should be provincialised and outsourced to the private sector, with clear service level agreements,” he suggested.
He went on to say that money was being spent on the wrong things, in reference to “failed State-owned enterprises”.
Steenhuisen called out a lack of leadership and said it was not good enough to blame citizens for the situation he country was in.
“It is outrageous that the government would even consider doing that. Now is the time for swift, bold and decisive action. We believe that this plan is swift, bold and decisive and we hope that The Presidency and the various structures will take it with the seriousness it deserves. We have to get through Covid-19 and we have to do so in a way that saves as many lives and livelihoods as possible,” he added.
He said every single life lost as a result of government inaction, and the business that would close because of the hard lockdown were going to have disastrous consequences on an already fragile economy and an already struggling society.
“Now is the time for action, South Africans needs to join hands. We can beat this virus, but it is going to require the leadership as well as the finances to make it happen. That responsibility rests with government. Citizens can play their part, but government needs to come to the party in a far bigger way than it has to date. There is much work to be done. We don’t have a moment to lose. It’s time for action,” he concluded.