Govt will now have 7 working days to make new Covid-19 rules before SA’s mask mandate lapses

Business Insider SA

  • There will now be a window of just seven working days between the end of a comment period for new regulations, and the automatic end of holdover disaster rules.
  • Health minister Joe Phaahla on Thursday extended the comment period on draft regulations around notifiable diseases to 24 April.
  • On 4 May, the remaining rules under the now-ended national state of disaster – including on masks – will automatically lapse.
  • The draft rules will keep masks mandated in any public building and on public transport.
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South Africans now have until 24 April, rather than this Easter Friday, the 15th,  to comment on new health regulations due to replace the Covid-19 rules that made masks mandatory.

Health minister Joe Phaahla on Thursday gazetted an extension to the comment period on draft regulations around notifiable diseases, to 24 April.

That means the government will have nine days in total, seven of them working days, to consider any objection to those rules and activate them – and to fend off any legal challenges to them – before masks will no longer be mandatory in South Africa.

On 4 April, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the end of the national state of disaster on Covid-19, from which the mask mandate drew its authority. He also announced a set of "transitional measures, which will automatically lapse after 30 days", including mandatory masks in public buildings and on public transport, but not in outdoor settings.

See also | The post-lockdown rules now in effect, including hugging at schools and closed border posts

The arrangement means that other rules must be in place by 4 May for the mask mandate to continue.

In theory, the government could declare a new state of disaster on Covid-19, except for Ramaphosa's declaration that "conditions no longer require" a state of disaster.

Phaahla published the draft version of long-term health rules in mid March, with a 30-day comment period, now extended to 40 days in total.

Those rules propose using the considerable existing powers granted to the minister of health to deal with serious diseases to make rules for Covid-19, or any future disease spread by aerosols and declared a pandemic. Among those new rules are replicas of lockdown rules, such as a requirement for businesses to provide hand sanitiser at their entrances, the demand for proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter South Africa, and the mask mandate.

See also | Face masks will not go away with the end of the state of disaster, under new draft rules

Phaahla and his department say that approach to coronavirus rules does not require the consent of Parliament. Nor does it require the extraordinary powers of a national state of disaster, which allows the government to rule by decree and do things such as ban roasted chicken and open-toed shoes

Several groups have expressed concern about the draft health rules and have vowed to fight them if implemented in their draft form.

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