Solidarity – standing up for South Africans, against ominous Draft Health Regulations

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the termination of the National State of Disaster in early April. Any celebratory relief, however, is premature. The Draft Health Regulations published in March for public comment are highly ominous. Various organisations have spoken out against these regulations, one of them being Solidarity, which has vowed to take legal action if the bill is passed.

Connie Mulder on what Solidarity is

Solidarity is a registered trade union in South Africa but we are quickly becoming more than just a trade union. We’re aiming in the direction of becoming a labour organisation but we are focused on the workplace and what happens in the workplace and that is why these health regulations that try and regulate the workplace matter to us quite a lot. Additionally, we have supporters, which means we are not only in the workplace, but in homes as well with people who support us and help us build campuses like Sol-tech or universities like academia and all of those. So, that means we have quite a big footprint, although the heart of Solidarity is the workplace, people and labour.

On the most ominous provisions of the health regulations

First, we need to look at the fatal flaw in these regulations and that is, these are regulations that apply to all notifiable communicable diseases. They have been promulgated for all notifiable communicable diseases, but the regulations themselves are extremely Covid-19 specific. We are in this really scary situation where massive abuse would be possible; for example, you can be forced to quarantine for any notifiable communicable disease. What we’ve seen from the regulations, however, is they were really rushed. They only speak of communicable diseases rather than notifiable communicable diseases. This might look like a technicality, but it is a very important distinction because HIV and Aids would be communicable diseases but it’s not notifiable. You cannot ask someone their HIV status when they enter the country yet this is suddenly possible with these regulations. It is almost certainly a typo and a technical error, but it is the kind of sloppiness you would not expect from legislation that will end up in court regulations.

What we have seen is the numbering is incorrect in several of these regulations. Primarily it looks like it has been copied and pasted from 2020 stuff that was applicable then with no cognisance of the fact we are now in 2022. We now know a lot more about the virus, a lot more about what works and what the real burden of disease is. Yet, these regulations make no provision for this. There are extensive paragraphs about quarantining and self-isolation when South Africa officially dropped all quarantine or self-isolation for Covid-19 on 17 February. Just for the reason that it is not necessary anymore. Contact tracing has been stopped for Covid-19. These regulations again have a large section on how to do contact tracing; but with Covid-19, the vast majority of cases are not reported at all. Contact tracing is a useless exercise if you cannot test every single person who gets Covid-19.

On the contesting of these regulations

I cannot speak for the legal team on the exact basis, but I know we will most likely [contest that it is] irrational, which makes sense. If we look at several of the regulations, they are not rooted in the reality of the way we have been handling Covid-19. If you’re able to handle [the pandemic] with less stringent regulations, proposing more stringent ones is not the rational way to go. This is what [they are proposing]; we are going to have more stringent regulations than the ones we currently have when healthcare has not been under pressure. What we need to understand is Covid-19 is not going away. We will have to live with this illness most likely for the rest of our lives. You cannot legislate or regulate an illness away. The only reason to have regulations is to ensure that healthcare is not flooded and we don’t have a situation where people are dying in the halls of hospitals. That is the reason for the state of disaster as well. If you’ve got one case of Covid-19, it is hard to make the argument our healthcare would be overwhelmed. Yet, there is no distinction. However, if it’s notified, the minister can do it.

The second part that bothers us is there is no empirical measurement for when you can end these regulations. At what point do they decide, okay, healthcare is not under pressure anymore? We don’t think they are going to make 4 May realistically. They say they’ve received 15,000 comments. We know it is much more than that. It should be almost 300,000 comments. As a government, you need to show you went through these comments if you do a public comment process and that you considered them.

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