President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the country at 7pm this evening on developments regarding South Africa’s risk-adjusted strategy in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

A statement said his address follows recent meetings of Cabinet, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and the President’s Coordinating Council, which have been considering the prospects of South Africa’s progressing from level 4 to level 3 of the lockdown, which earlier statements suggested would likely occur on 1 June.

The announcement came as the health department reported that positive cases had increased by 1 218 to 21 343, with 10 more deaths taking the toll to 407. There have been 10 104 recoveries so far.

Earlier in the week it was revealed that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was lobbying in the government’s controversial NCCC to have the ban on liquor and cigarette sales extended until South Africa reaches level 1 of the lockdown.

South Africa may learn this evening from the president whether any clarity has been reached on the increasingly inflammatory question of cigarette and alcohol sales, and the reopening of the economy in conditions in which hunger, joblessness and business closures are mounting.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has issued a new code of conduct for soldiers deployed in enforcing the lockdown which includes an injunction not to shoot people.

News24 reported that the code of conduct, shared on SANDF social media sites in the format of “dos and “don’ts”, detailed how soldiers would be expected to disperse crowds during looting, and that they should not fire warning shoots, shoot civilians or become involved in a physical fight.

The report said: ‘In the scenario where a person is drinking in their yard, SANDF members should ignore the situation and not enter the premises. Although soldiers have the right to self-defence, they have been instructed to ignore provocation, disrespect and insults. They should exercise restraint and issue a verbal warning, rather than shooting or engaging in a physical fight.’

Senior academics, the vice-chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand, Adam Habib, and Professor Jonathan Jansen took to their respective social media pages on Friday evening to raise concerns about the action taken against Professor Glenda Gray following her public statements.

This after GroundUp (see the accompanying news item today on Daily Friend) reported that the acting director-general of the health department, Dr Anban Pillay, had requested an investigation into the conduct of Gray, whom he claimed had ‘made a number of false allegations against the government’.

Jansen said no political authority had the right to slander a scholar.

‘The political attack on Professor Glenda Gray is completely unacceptable. Disagree as scientists and politicians, yes. But no political authority, including the DG of health, has the right to slander a scholar and report her to her bosses,’ he wrote.

Jansen added that ‘this is not apartheid and stop the bullying now’.

The liquor industry has called for the urgent reopening of the manufacturing, distribution and trade of alcohol under Level 3.

Industry bodies South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (SALBA), Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) and VinPro said in a statement: ‘As an industry, we create employment for over one million people across the value chain, contribute 3% to the GDP of South Africa’s economy, and make an indirect tax contribution — VAT, customs and excise revenue — of R51 billion.’

Meanwhile, ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte has told the tobacco industry to ‘back off’ after a petition started circulating online this week, calling for the ‘removal’ of  Dlamini-Zuma.

News24 reported that it was ‘unclear what links, if any, the petition has to the tobacco industry’.

The petition, signed by almost 175 000 people so far, accuses Dlamini-Zuma of ‘irrationally misusing her power’ and ‘seeking revenge through a pandemic’ for ‘her own past struggles’.

Responding to reports about hospitals in the Western Cape beginning to come under pressure from Covid-19 cases, the office of Premier Alan Winde said there had been increased pressure on the province’s health system, but some capacity still remained. The province has more than 60% of the country’s total cases.

Said Winde’s spokesperson Bianca Capazorio: ‘The Western Cape’s health planning response has taken into account all of the existing private and public sector ICU or high-care beds in an integrated single healthcare system response. We have sufficient capacity at this time to meet our current critical care needs, but even in the best-case scenario, we will still fall short of ICU beds.’

For this reason, it was vital to focus on protecting the most vulnerable.

‘About 90% of people who contract Covid-19 will not require hospitalisation, but we have seen from our data that those who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying are the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.’

In other virus-related news

  • China recorded no new confirmed cases of the coronavirus at the end of the week, marking the first time it saw no daily rise in the number of infections since authorities began reporting data in January;
  • A study of nearly 100 000 coronavirus patients has shown no benefit in treating them with anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and even increased the likelihood of their dying in hospital. United States President Donald Trump revealed last week that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, endorsed by the US, as a precaution. The drug is also being used in the UK, and has also been endorsed by Brazil;
  • World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF said the pandemic was putting tens of millions of children’s lives at risk by disrupting routine immunisation programmes; and
  • The WHO said South America had become ‘a new epicentre’ of the pandemic, following a surge in the number of Covid-19 infections. WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan told a virtual news conference: ‘Clearly there is a concern across many of those countries, but … the most affected is Brazil at this point.’ The country’s highest one-day toll of 1 188 pushed the overall death tally to 20 047 on Thursday. Brazil has now recorded more than 310 000 cases.

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