Media statement: Government must rise to meet the challenge of the second wave

 In C19PC Statements, Media Alert

For Immediate Release
8 January 2021

Epidemiological commonsense, along with ample international experience, predicted that South Africa would be struck by a second wave of Covid-19. The government, however, has been caught unprepared.

We at the C-19 People’s Coalition recognise the President’s efforts to correct course and engage with civil society, but more is necessary.

Given already failing administrative systems, together with a typical “penny wise, pound foolish” neoliberal approach, government earlier botched and then abandoned any serious attempt at the testing, tracing and quarantining that proved successful in countries like Taiwan, South Korea and China.

Since the first wave, the extra mass treatment facilities and field hospitals have been dismantled. It remains unclear what’s being done to meet the second wave, which has much higher patient numbers than the first.

Hospitals still lack sufficient personal protective equipment.

Workplaces and public transport are not taking sufficient steps to protect workers from contagion.

The government’s plans have been secretive and poorly conveyed. The country does not have an effective, mass communication campaign to tackle Covid-19. We acknowledge government’s success in securing a first, small tranche of vaccines, but now it has become clear that the extent of anti-vaccine sentiment has become a major factor in roll-out. In October, around 70% of South Africans said they would take a Covid-19 vaccine, but this figure had dropped to around 50% by December. We need government’s assistance in funding and coordinating a bottom-up educational drive, drawing in community health workers, health committees, the media and civil society, to convince our people of the danger of the virus, the safety of vaccines, and the broader behaviours necessary to suppress transmission while we purchase and distribute it.

In the past, instead of mobilising South African society against a common, devastating threat, some local politicians hoarded food while millions of our people were starving. As healthcare workers put their lives on the line, the people were treated to an obscene scramble for emergency tenders, conducted by a predatory political class. We have seen, repeatedly, open conflict between government and the scientific community, the media, unions and community-based organisations, an expression of broad distrust in government’s willingness and capacity to serve society’s needs.

Government is in the process of withdrawing the last remnants of the special cash grants, a step which will contribute to mass hunger.

The army, after gratuitously brutalizing the people of South Africa in the first wave, continues to be deployed to police people rather than to help people.

A complex humanitarian crisis is unfolding at South Africa’s borders. Instead of taking steps of solidarity with fellow Africans, whose labour has for generations helped to build the South African economy, our politicians say that nothing more can be done and many engage in open xenophobia.

We are menaced by a new variant of the coronavirus, one which is more infectious and which affects young people more severely.

In the context of this deep and multifaceted crisis, the C-19 People’s Coalition supports the following demands:

The urgent acquisition and roll-out of appropriate vaccines is our number one priority. Government should be updating the public clearly and regularly on the progress of negotiations with suppliers. It should continuously update the public about costs and sources of finance, including the subsidisation of public vaccines by private medical aid schemes, which have reaped windfalls due to declining claims during the course of the pandemic. Government needs to present to the people of South Africa a credible plan for a roll-out, with timeframes and roles established.

By moving quickly, thousands of lives will be saved and further devastation of livelihoods and the economy avoided.

We recognise that vaccination will necessarily take time. So further, parallel measures must be promoted. These include:

The ramping up of testing, contact-tracing and quarantine to keep infection rates down.

The development of measures to boost staff numbers and oxygenation equipment to address rising hospitalization.

We need stronger regulations, enforced by professional health workers and NGOs, to limit contagion in workplaces and public transport.

Government needs to recommit to financial support for the people, by moving quickly toward guaranteed income support for all, a universal basic income grant, set at a dignified level.

The army must be redeployed from policing to assisting with South Africa’s healthcare and emergency needs.

Every effort must be made to relieve the humanitarian crisis unfolding on our borders, including through providing for food and water, easing entry, and establishing humane conditions for quarantine.

Government must, through such measures, rise to the challenge of the second wave. If it doesn’t, we all face disaster.

Issued by the C-19 People’s Coalition

For comment, please contact:

Abeedah Adams – 072 028 3551
Rehad Desai – 083 997 9204

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