/EDITORIAL | Faster, better testing needed to justify Ramaphosa’s lockdown 2

EDITORIAL | Faster, better testing needed to justify Ramaphosa’s lockdown 2

2020-04-09 22:17

President
Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown period
to 35 days is devastating news for all South Africans.

The full
economic impact of the first 21 days, that finishes next Thursday, is yet to be
calculated, but the Reserve Bank has predicted a contraction of the economy of
between 2% and 4% this year. 370 000 people could lose their jobs.

This figure
will increase with another two weeks of lockdown to prevent the spread of the
coronavirus.

Ramaphosa
had an impossible task: to open-up the economy and risk the rapid spread of the
virus, resulting in unbearable pressure on our public health system and the
loss of thousands of lives, versus further breaking our already brittle economy
but potentially saving thousands of lives.

He chose the
latter and it’s hard to blame him. He simply did not have enough scientific
evidence in front of him to choose the former.

It is now
widely known that the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), the state’s pathology
service, is woefully lacking behind schedule to test 36 000 people per
day, as it set out to do. The NHLS ran out of chemicals early in the process
and the majority of tests are still being done by private laboratories.

Mass
screening and testing in townships and informal settlements ensued this week,
but the result of that is not yet known to inform big political decisions. In
the absence of reliable, local data at scale, Ramaphosa had to fall back on
international case studies for his decision.

South
Africa’s infection rate and death toll is relatively low compared to many
European countries. There could be many reasons for this about which scientists
disagree. What is clear is that Ramaphosa cannot close down the economy forever
in the hope that the virus will disappear.

His ask of
South Africans to lock down for another two weeks is reasonable and responsible,
as painful as the impact may be. The phased opening of the economy is good news
and we urgently need detail on how this will happen. Opening up mining,
agriculture and manufacturing – our key export sectors – should support the
Rand.

The pressure
is now on the NHLS and the health department to provide Ramaphosa with
sufficient scientific evidence to inform his political and economic decisions
going forward.

– Editor

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