Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele says although government initiated interventions to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many lessons can be learnt and gaps covered in order to improve the State’s disaster management capabilities.
The Minister was speaking during the launch of the South Africa COVID-19 Country Report, which records measures and interventions adopted by the country to combat COVID-19 and its negative socio-economic impacts.
“It is important that we pick up lessons from our collective experiences to improve things going forward. It is through learning that we can sharpen our focus in enhancing the capability of the State to deal with outbreaks and other forms of disaster,” he said.
The first edition report references the time period during South Africa’s experience of the first and second waves of COVID-19 infections.
A second edition is expected to be released which will detail an extended period following those two waves and some of the outcomes of government’s interventions.
Gungubele said the value of the report was “derived during the research process” which gave government concurrent analysis on the COVID-19 situation and allowed the state to respond more efficiently.
“As the research and analysis proceeded, various actors improved their understanding of the pandemic and in the same way, lessons were being drawn – feeding into relevant decision making processes and helping to improve [government’s] response measures,” he said.
The Minister said some recommendations in the report have already been implemented including those relating to social relief assistance, vaccinations, government regulations and the economy.
“There are numerous lessons on what worked well and what has not worked well to do and specific recommendations on what to do. To date, important steps taken include the announcement of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan… which signalled a shift in the focus of government towards stabilisation and recovery.
“The extension of the social assistance programme has been effected through the Social Relief of Distress Grant until 2023,” Gungubele said.
The Minister reflected on the impact that the outbreak of COVID-19 had on South Africans during the early onset of the pandemic – calling it a “health crisis”, which had major social and economic implications.
“The complex nature of the pandemic required a multi-pronged, multi-sector approach and accordingly, South Africa’s response was comprehensive and visibly led by the president and the minister of health. [The] overall response emphasised saving lives and saving livelihoods,” he said.
He said government took steps to ensure that the most vulnerable in society were given some form of protection against the pandemic’s effects.
“We could see that people living in low income groups, those in informal settlements, larger families, those dependent on the informal sector, women, children and the homeless were likely to be more vulnerable to the ravages of the pandemic. Appropriate safety nets were put in place to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic especially on the most vulnerable,” he said.
Gungubele acknowledged that the pandemic also brought into sharp focus the inequalities that exist in society.
“Amongst those, the unevenness in the state of readiness and capacity of the various disaster management centres in various parts of the country became apparent. The pandemic exposed existing coverage and reliability gaps with respect to basic amenities and special inequality. This highlighted the vulnerability of specific communities to several risks associated with gaps [like]…food, transport, ICT services – especially for online learning platforms for the majority of learners,” he said.
Gungubele also took aim at the fraud, corruption and collusion that took place in government’s COVID-19 procurement.
“The corrupt practices and collusion between different actors undermined confidence and generated widespread public anger. Examples include overpricing of essential items, abuse of emergency procurement, looting of resources [and] diverting of social assistance such as food,” he said.
Gungubele said despite the myriad of challenges, opportunities also became apparent in manufacturing, the use of technology, research and the improvement of government communications.
“Many lessons have been learnt and much can still be explored as we engage in economic recovery process. Greater attention is required in certain areas and some of them require immediate policy responses.
“These include support for small businesses, government’s interface with small business [and] the effectiveness of measures to counter [gender-based violence],” he said.
Source: South African Government News Agency