Democratic Alliance provincial spokespersons on health will all submit Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) applications to their respective provincial health departments compelling them to release daily, detailed coronavirus (Covid-19) statistics, the DA said on Sunday.
Of the nine provinces, only the Western Cape and Gauteng (although in a limited fashion) were releasing daily statistics which were broken down into regions, fatalities, and most importantly, tests conducted, DA shadow minister of health Siviwe Gwarube said in a statement.
The DA had repeatedly raised the issue of credible, consistent, and accurate data which gave the country a complete picture of community transmissions in the fight against Covid-19, she said.
There seemed to be a desire in some provinces to withhold data from the public for no reason at all. As an example of this absurdity, the KwaZulu-Natal government was claiming that these statistics were embargoed. Other provinces were either inconsistent in the sharing of this information or it did not happen at all.
“I have raised the issue of uniformity of data with the Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize so that we can understand how many tests are conducted per province and what proportion of the national testing figures this represents. I have also made the case for transparency with regards to provincial testing strategies so that we can be assured that each province is testing enough people in relation to their population,” Gwarube said.
The crisis in the Eastern Cape, where less than 10,000 tests were conducted in five weeks, was discovered much later than it should have been, because there was no requirement for public release of testing figures. This was an important accountability tool.
The Western Cape had been transparent with this data for weeks and had consistently made known their testing strategy. The province began – weeks ago – to conduct targeted testing, tracking, and tracing, which was yielding an accurate reflection of community transmissions.
“They are screening and testing in clusters where positive results have been found and the virus is likely to have spread. Epidemiological evidence suggests that if you have a far more targeted approach like this, as opposed to a generalised screening effort, you are likely to identify the requisite interventions swiftly and eventually flatten the curve,” Gwarube said.
In addition to this, the Western Cape accounted for a large number of all tests conducted in the country. Information released by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) this week revealed that in the period between March 4 and April 27, the Western Cape conducted 541 tests per 100,000 people, followed by Gauteng with 439 per 100,000 people, and the Free State with 284 per 100.000 people.
“We welcome the release of this information and trust that the NICD will be making it available weekly. This information from the NICD underscores the importance of having reliable and consistent provincial data,” she said.
“This is critical for public accountability and also guides urgent interventions that are needed almost in real time. Information about a global pandemic that is wreaking havoc in our country should never be considered classified. That goes against section 32(1)(a) of the Constitution which determines that everyone has a right of access to any information held by the state. This is more so information relating to a global health crisis.
“The DA will continue fighting for this information to be made public so that we can ensure that we are not shooting in the dark. Every province must have a targeted approach to testing, tracing, and tracking while meeting their daily testing targets. These PAIA applications will help us determine that in the next coming weeks,” Gwarube said.