Government’s COVID-19 advisors don’t know where its lockdown decisions come from

University of the Witwatersrand professor Francois Venter has criticised the South African government for its irrational lockdown regulations and lack of transparency.

Venter is a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19, which is chaired by Professor Salim Abdool Karim.

The purpose of the MAC is to advise the government on the health ramifications of the COVID-19 outbreak, which partly informs its regulatory response and the imposition of lockdown rules.

Speaking in an interview with eNCA over public confusion surrounding the government’s rationale behind its lockdown rules, Venter said the confusion comes from the government, not the scientists.

“There are precious little contradictions and disagreements among the MAC. We have seen the contradictions and disagreements come from the government’s side, and that hasn’t been explained.”

Venter said that there are scientists on the MAC who are frustrated with the regulations, and others who are pleased, but he noted that government’s refusal to publish the deliberations from these meetings gives them a veneer of secrecy.

“I think what is happening at the moment is we are seeing government behaving in an irrational way, and it is breaking down the social compact,” he said.

“On the one hand, you have a situation where the government says you must not go and party, but it is okay to go to church or to get into a crowded taxi. Those kinds of things don’t actually make sense.”

Venter said that by relaxing restrictions for certain people and not for others, the government breaks its social compact with the public.

Meet the scientists

Venter noted that the government has often cited scientists as justification for decisions it has implemented during the lockdown, but he was not aware who these scientists were.

“Government keeps saying scientists are making these decisions, and that is part of our frustration within the MAC,” he said.

“It would be good to know who these scientists are and what their reasoning is so we can interrogate it and understand it.”

“This whole process has been mysterious,” Venter added.

He said that while they were bound by a confidentiality agreement to not release the content of MAC meetings, he confirmed that the alcohol ban was discussed at the most recent meeting.

“I can’t tell you what the deliberations were, but that was the first time we discussed them.”

“With regards to the previous alcohol ban and a range of aspects from the lockdowns – I’m not sure where those decisions came from.”

Excess deaths contested

This follows after national death data from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) showing that the pandemic led to almost 11,000 excess deaths in South Africa was contested by Pandemics Data and Analysis (PANDA).

A report by the SAMRC showed a significant increase in the number of deaths from natural causes over the course of the national lockdown, as of 7 July 2020.

According to this report, the coronavirus pandemic led to 10,994 excess deaths in the country – more than three times the official COVID-19 death count.

PANDA noted that this figure is remarkable when compared with the reported COVID-19 deaths for the same period, which amounted to 3,354.

“It might be tempting to conclude that approximately 30% of the true COVID-19 deaths are actually being reported and we may be significantly understating the true COVID-19 deaths.”

PANDA said this is not the case, however, as an inspection of how the SAMRC reported this data shows.

Read more about the criticism of the SAMRC’s report in our article on the topic.

Now read: Eastern Cape schools used hand sanitiser with 4% alcohol

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Government’s COVID-19 advisors don’t know where its lockdown decisions come from