Covid-19 has been declared a national disaster in SA – here’s what that means

Business Insider SA
  • Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is now officially a national disaster in South Africa.
  • That gives the government wide-ranging powers to regulate the movement of people and goods – and even ban alcohol.
  • Here is what the declaration of a national state of emergency means.
  • For more stories, go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

The Covid-19 outbreak cause by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has been declared a national emergency, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday.

Measures to stop the spread of the virus in South Africa include the partial closure of borders, banning visits to prisons, closing schools, and prohibiting events that involve the gathering of more than 100 people.

See also: Our Covid-19 page, constantly updated with everything we know about the novel coronavirus in South Africa.

Those measures can be enforced using legislation that gives the government wide-ranging powers to deal with disasters, including mobilising government resources without paperwork and banning alcohol.

Here's what the declaration of Covid-19 as a national disaster in South Africa means.

A state of disaster lasts for three months, if not extended or cancelled.

If nothing else changes, the Covid state of disaster will automatically lapse on 15 June, taking with it the restrictions imposed. But it can be extended – or cancelled – by declaration, without the involvement of Parliament or provinces.

See also: Two years later, SA’s drought has just been declared a national emergency – again

There aren't many limits on government's powers to deal with an emergency.

The government can't use a state of disaster to do entirely unrelated things, but within the scope of the disaster – in this case a viral outbreak – there aren't many limits to what it can do.

The government can use its powers if it considers it necessary for any one of five distinct reasons:

  • "assisting or protecting" the public
  • providing relief
  • protecting property
  • fighting disruption
  • deal with "the destructive or other effects" of the disaster.

Government resources are freed up – minus the paperwork.

In the context of a disaster, a lot of the red tape around using government resources falls away.

The government can now use emergency procurement procedures, which can bypass all the usual rules that seek to advantage certain types of businesses or individuals, and the strict need for competitive quoting.

It can also apply "any available resources of the national government", such as vehicles or facilities, and use any employees of any organ of state as emergency workers.

The movement of people and goods is no longer free.

Disaster legislation deals extensively with the movement of people and goods. The powers the government can invoke are intended to be applied when a specific geographic area is hit by something such as a fire or flood, but can also be used on a national scale.

The government now has the power to evacuate people if "necessary for the preservation of life" – and it is not clear that the lives to be saved must necessarily be those of the people evacuated.

The government also has the power to regulate, as it sees fit, the movement of persons and goods.

Alcohol sales can be banned.

Disaster areas – in this case the entire country – can see the sale of booze banned entirely, or limited.

If it will help, the government can do it.

The legislation around disaster management has a catch-all power provision that could cover just about any reasonable measure the government can dream up to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It allows "steps that may be necessary to prevent an escalation of the disaster, or to alleviate, contain and minimise the effects of the disaster".

See also: Here’s how your office should be preparing for coronavirus worst-case according to the WHO

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