A bit more discipline this Easter could make all the difference to our pandemic
We are heading into Easter with some good news on the Covid-19 outbreak front: fears that this holiday season would arrive with the country engulfed by a third wave of infections are proving to be unfounded. As professor Salim Abdool Karim put it elsewhere in this edition, “there is no indication that South Africa or any province is on its way to a third wave at this time. Every province is in low transmission at present.” But this does not mean that we should lower our guard.
We should take seriously vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi’s warning about the positivity rate creeping up slightly in a few provinces.
“I wouldn’t call it a third wave, but if people engage in mass gatherings then it will come sooner rather than later,” Madhi says.
The Easter season is traditionally a period when hundreds of thousands of South Africans travel across provinces to visit family and holiday resorts or to attend mass religious gatherings.
Given that a hard lockdown around this time last year meant that Christians and other religious groups that observe the period could not hold ceremonies, it is understandable that many faith-based organisations are now canvassing the government for the relaxation of lockdown rules to allow for such gatherings to take place.
Encouraged by relatively low current infection figures, influential church leaders and organisations are lobbying for the government to lift the current limit of 100 people for indoor gatherings and 250 for outdoor events.
Though religious organisations are well within their rights to argue for less strenuous rules, the National
Coronavirus Command Council should be careful not to take decisions that would result in super-spreader events.
We are firmly of the view that allowing an increase in the limit for indoor gatherings to 500 per venue could have serious negative implications for our fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
Those arguing for this say they have taken a number of safety measures in their churches and believe that such gatherings would not turn into super-spreaders.
But even if that were true of all religious gatherings, what of other sectors — like nightclubs and other places of entertainment? If rules for gatherings were relaxed for religious groups during this period, it would be difficult to justify restricting them for other sectors.
The government’s response to this, it seems, is a plan to limit the sale of alcohol by banning weekend trading. But that on its own would be inadequate as a solution.
Given that our vaccination programme is still far from taking off in a meaningful way, the focus should remain on measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. This means continuing to encourage citizens to social distance and to prevent mass gatherings as much as possible.
Over the past year, many religious groups have come up with innovative ways of keeping in touch and worshipping without putting members’ lives at risk. They should be doing the same this Easter.
Instead of pushing for new rules that may have dire consequences for us all, they can use the holiday season to have smaller but more frequent religious sessions, where groups of worshippers can attend at different times and still be able to effectively observe social-distancing rules.
Without a vaccine rollout programme being implemented, we cannot afford to relax the rules to allow for potential super-spreaders as that could only lead to a higher infection rate, more deaths and another harmful hard lockdown.
Without a vaccine rollout, we cannot afford to relax the rules