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Draft health regulations a disaster for democracy

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced the changes that government would make once the Covid-19 national state of disaster is lifted.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced the changes that government would make once the Covid-19 national state of disaster is lifted.
Image: Masi Losi

President Cyril Ramaphosa extended the state of disaster earlier this week but indicated that the Covid-19 pandemic would be managed via new health regulations.

“These regulations, when finalised, will replace the State of Disaster regulations as the legal instrument that we use to manage the pandemic,” Ramaphosa said.

The four sets of draft regulations, which were released just over a week ago for public comment, deal with the surveillance and control of notifiable medical conditions, public health control at SA’s points of entry, the management of human remains and environmental health.

These draft rules need to be scrutinised closely, not least because though they will be promulgated by the National Health Act, they will not be tabled before parliament.

Instead, they are regarded as “subordinate legislation” delegated to the minister of health.

The proposed regulations have already attracted sharp criticism, partly because they contain an outdated approach towards Covid-19 and in part because they seem to be an executive overreach, threatening individual freedoms.

The government has presented the regulations as intended to manage Covid-19 but curiously they have wide scope, applicable to all notifiable medical conditions and containing measures that can be used for any public health threat deemed to be an epidemic or pandemic.

The regulations not only include discredited preventive measures, such as temperature testing, enforced government-run quarantining and contact tracing, but also provide for restrictions such as curfews, lockdowns and limitations on sporting, religious and cultural activity, as well as business operations and the alcohol industry.

In other words, these regulations entrench the extraordinary curtailment of individual freedom that occurred during the State of Disaster.

They have been rubbished by several leading health experts who say the regulations need to be reconsidered in the light of up-to-date scientific knowledge about Covid-19. 

An even greater concern is that, as they stand, the regulations give the executive exceptional power without having to declare a disaster — and that flies in the face of the tenets of constitutional democracy.



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