The government’s decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions is reckless and misguided

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is disappointed and astonished by government’s irresponsible and misguided relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions. The decision to remove the remaining curfew hours and massively increase indoor gatherings numbers from 250 to 1000 on New Year’s Eve, undermines the government’s message on the need to minimise social interaction as one of the key measures to curb the spread of this deadly pandemic.   

This is a populist political decision that undermines the fight against a deadly pandemic that has destroyed lives and livelihoods of many. We are likely to see a sharp increase in infection numbers because many South Africans will forget to maintain vigilance and protection against this pandemic 

COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 90 000 South Africans, infected over 3 million, overwhelmed our healthcare facilities and cost 2.2 million jobs. 

Millions of workers continue to lose their meagre wages and with government budget cuts the economy has been plunged deeper into a mini depression, where around 25 million people are on welfare and half the adult working population remains unemployed. 

The 00:00pm to 04:00am curfew was of little burden to the economy and provided badly needed breathing space for our health workers and police officers.  The removal of the curfew and an increase in indoor gatherings over the New Year eve celebration period is particularly alarming because South Africa has a serious problem with the abuse of alcohol. The complete removal of restrictions will likely result in a sharp rise in fatalities and serious injuries from road accidents, violence, and general criminality.  This is not the message that the nation needed at this time. 

This removal of the curfew and the massive increase in indoor gatherings will bring little relief to the economy.  A sharp rise in infections however will pose a serious risk to any hope of an economic recovery in 2022.  The economy and workers cannot afford another lockdown, especially since the Unemployment Insurance Fund does not have the resources to bail workers anymore.  

It is equally worrying that the relaxation in gatherings and the removal of the curfew come against the backdrop of many vaccine sites being closed due to low demand.  This will further weaken the efforts to ensure that people vaccinate in their numbers. 

The Federation hope that this ill-considered decision by the Cabinet will not come back to haunt the country in economic lockdowns and retrenchments.  Cabinet needs to show some backbone and avoid playing to the gallery. 

COSATU expects to hear of government plans to reinforce our healthcare infrastructure and provide support for our frontline workers. The poorly paid ambulance drivers, firefighters, nurses, and law enforcement officers deserve better. 

This pandemic has disrupted many people’s lives and if we are to survive it, we need sober minded and bold leadership. Populism will not fix our stagnant economy nor create jobs for the millions of unemployed. 

Issued by COSATU 
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)  

Tel: 011 339 4911 
Fax: 011 339 5080 
Cell: 060 975 6794