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Proposed health amendments face legal challenge amid extension of protocols

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By Tauhierah Salie

The Health department gazetted a reduced set of regulations late on Wednesday, after the 30-day transitional period to end the national state of disaster lapsed at midnight.

Speaking to VOC on Thursday, Western Cape health department spokesperson Keith Cloete this necessitates reduced covid-19 regulations commended by provincial government, given a rise in Covid-19 figures reported by the department:

“Those things that came in last night is only on three specifications. The first is on mask wearing, second on gathering sizes and the third (…) (pertains) to people entering the country from travel from another country. From our position in the Western Cape, we can live with those three things because it does give us some form of things you can call upon that is at least evidence – related and helps us with potentially the fifth or sixth wave coming.”

As per the department:

  1. Masks remain mandatory in all indoor public spaces, where school-going children are exempt.
  2. Gathering sizes have been amended in that:
    • Indoor and outdoor venues can host a maximum of 50% of its capacity if attendees are vaccinated against Covid-19 and have a valid vaccination certificate
    • Unvaccinated attendees must produce a valid, negative Covid-19 test less than 72 hours old
    • Maximum indoor attendance is 1 000 and outdoor at 200

Solidarity has criticized the snap decision, lamenting governments uncertainty of South Africans. Chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann raised concern over government gazetting regulations despite admitting greater consideration is needed:

“The most draconic and worrying of the new regulations is the fact that the Minister of Health can arbitrarily decide to enact or withdraw them. Practically, this means the Minister can put the whole country into lockdown with no prior notice and no limits to this power. The huge uncertainty this creates in several sectors of the economy will have major consequences if the regulations remain as is,” he said.

Campaigns manager Jacques Broodryk also said AfriForum’s legal team has finalised court documents and are on stand-by to contest for a review of the  “astoundingly and unjustifiable”.

Meanwhile, the public participation process on the controversial amendments to the health regulations has been extended a further three months. It comes amid a court case wherein Action 4 Freedom is challenging governments proposed changes under the Surveillance and Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions. Several groups have thrown their weight behind the challenge, labelling the regulations ‘draconian’. The applications of the Indigenous First Nation Advocacy Group and an organisation called “My Individual Right to Informed Consent” to join the proceedings were also rejected.

If passed into law, health authorities will be granted wide-ranging powers to ‘contain’ various, unspecified infections- of which, covid-19 is included. The public participation process had been extended by several weeks following backlash from political parties and civil society. Many cited the ‘irrationality’ of the recycled powers, pointing to the infringement of various human rights, such as that to freedom of choice and movement.

Among the contentions raised include the revoking of infected citizens’ right to refuse examination and/or extraction of biological samples. Health officials could also take action against infected patients’ who reject isolation, quarantine or admission to a health facility, as well as those who refuse “mandatory prophylaxis” or treatment. Similarly, medical officials or police may- legally- obtain a court order to force individuals into quarantine or to remain in a hospital. There is also the possibility of restricted attendance at funerals, night vigils and public places.

Cloete said that these regulations needed to be more carefully considered.

 “(There are) quite extensive changes made to the Notifiable disease- how to handle human bodies, the powers and functions of environmental officers, and international health regulations when entering a country. We made quite extensive comments (and) submitted it on the first closing date, we took it very seriously. Our comments were by and large not supportive of many of those amendments,” said Cloete.

“The law requires that if, if you’re going to make such extensive amendments, that you have to have a minimum of at least three months to allow for consultation and proper engagement on these issues,” he added.

Citizens now have until July 5 to make submissions on the changes. The extension also gives government time to consider the over 300k comments already received.

Listen to the full audio here.



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