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Burning questions, suggestions on lockdown before Ramaphosa speaks

Residents of Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, during the lockdown.
Residents of Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, during the lockdown.
Image: Alon Skuy

DA leader John Steenhuisen is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to set aside R600m  to buy face masks for South Africans who can’t afford them.

Steenhuisen said in a statement on Thursday that he estimated the country would need 120-million masks to give to 40-million people to minimise the spread of Covid-19 when the country begins its phased-in reopening after lockdown.

“We request the immediate implementation of a policy of mandatory cloth masks for all, in all public places. At least three cloth masks should be provided free to all those who are unable to afford masks.

“Assuming 40-million people require free masks, this would be 120-million in all, and would cost an estimated R600m – a mere fraction of the cost to SA of a single day of hard lockdown,” said Steenhuisen.

His statement came before Ramaphosa was scheduled to address the nation about the lockdown later on Thursday.

Many expect an easing of lockdown regulations to allow for some sectors of the economy to be active again.

Steenhuisen expects this would mean increased use of public transport and spaces.

He said the wearing of masks should be mandatory in places where people are not able to keep a 1.5m space between each other.

Public transport, he added, would be the central nexus of human interaction when the economy reopened and, as such, everyone on public transport needed masks.

“Everyone on public transport to sanitise their hands on entrance and exit. Public transport vehicles to be sanitised regularly,” he said.

But he also wants Ramaphosa to answer questions about statements by leading scientists advising his government on Covid-19.

He said there were other crucial questions and suggestions the party had concerning lockdown, and they were sharing them before Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Thursday. They included: 

  • Clarity needed on alleged statement by Prof Shabir Madhi (of Wits University) revising down the expected number of Covid-19 deaths to 45,000 over the next 2-3 years, from earlier estimates of 120,000-150,000 deaths. 
  • Purported comments by one of the government's leading experts on the virus, saying they were unsure how much more the lockdown could help.
  • An approach on the availability of alcohol.
  • How social distancing protocols could be put in place by all sectors in the economy, specific to their context, before reopening. 

Concerning comments about the revised death toll to 45,000, Steenhuisen said, “this revision profoundly impacts SA’s optimal response to this pandemic.

“A death rate of 45,000 over 2-3 years is broadly in line with SA’s current murder rate and Easter road deaths, neither of which have elicited hard lockdown in response. Therefore, we request clarity around these alleged comments,” he said.