As South Africa prepares to move from alert level 4 to alert level 3, the government is expected to impose separate COVID-19 alert levels across different regions based on the prevalence of the coronavirus.
The Presidency said constituencies of the national economic development and labour council (NEDLAC) are working to achieve the country’s earliest possible migration to level 3.
This was the first in a series of consultations led by President Cyril Ramaphosa between the government and social partners on the migration to level 3.
This approach aims to curb the spread of the virus as the economy comes back online, but Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) chairperson Howard Dembovsky argues that it will be impossible to enforce different lockdown levels across metros.
“Regrettably, from a legal perspective and as has repeatedly been demonstrated since the declaration of a national disaster, in terms of the Disaster Management Act, Dr Dlamini-Zuma and/or any of her sidekicks may make decrees as and when they wish,” Dembovsky told MyBroadband.
“But decrees do not cause people to act in a certain way and therefore the success of those decrees is reliant on buy-in from the public and enforcement.”
“Our best hope is that this lunacy is halted by the courts, but since I do not wish to die of asphyxia, I am not holding my breath that it will,” he said.
When asked whether authorities would be able to police municipal borders and prevent travel between areas on different alert levels, Dembovsky said he does not think this type of policing could be achieved.
“In short, I cannot think of a single way that effective enforcement can be achieved,” Dembovsky said.
“I really started having trouble understanding the rationale behind [the lockdown] when it was announced that differing levels will apply right down to district level.”
“This means that not only will differing levels be applicable at a provincial and municipal level, but will extend right down to individual suburbs/townships, etc,” he said.
He said that certain areas have been identified as hotspots due to elevated testing, which increased the number of detected infections.
“After all, if little or no testing is taking place in a certain area, the probability of cases being detected must be lower and vice versa,” Dembovsky said.
“I do, however, admit that my reasoning is premised on a pesky thing called logic, and logic does not appear to feature highly on the list of priorities of the political elite involved in this crisis.”
Dembovsky said that if a business is within a hotspot and subject to level 4 or level 5 restrictions, its operations will be relatively simple.
If the people who are employed by businesses live in an area decreed to be under level 3 or lower restrictions, they will not be able to go to work.
“However, if a business is outside of a hotspot, and resultantly its area is at a lower [lockdown level] than the areas around it, this is where things become tricky,” Dembovsky said.
“A person living in a level 4 (or 5) area would, I assume, not be allowed to go to work, even though the business they work for is operational.”
“If this is not so, then one must ask what purpose declaring hotspots and having different levels is even meant to achieve,” he said.
Dembovsky said that people will find a way to evade police and the army, too, especially if their livelihoods depend on their ability to return to work.
“In my view, policing such differing levels will be a nightmare – even if the enforcement contingent is increased by several multiples,” Dembovsky said.
“Because hermetically-sealed bubbles cannot be placed over individual areas in an attempt to prevent people from exiting the area, it will mean that roadblocks and the like will have to be established around areas subject to higher-level restrictions.”
“From a practical perspective, cops and the army cannot be present everywhere,” he said.
He added the while cellphone tracking may sound like a good idea, many people would simply leave their cellphones at home so they can continue to earn a living.
Additionally, the prohibition of certain products under certain levels could result in major problems.
“Under level 4, alcohol and cigarettes are prohibited, and so is interprovincial travel,” Dembovsky said.
“What is going to happen if the North West, for example, is subject to level 3 and Gauteng is subject to level 4?”
“How will products that are allowed under level 3 be acquired from areas under level 4 – if they are manufactured in a level 4 area?”
“At some stage or another, even if these products are manufactured in a lower level area, they will have to traverse areas that are subject to higher levels or, where possible, zig-zag routes will have to be taken to transport them,” he said.
Dembovsky said the entire concept of differing levels for different areas is a recipe for disaster.
“It may look good on paper, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating – if the pudding isn’t banned in some government gazette or another,” he said.