DISASTER MANAGEMENT REGULATIONS

This article appeared in the 19 March edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

All Covid-19-related regulations gazetted this week are prescribed under the 2002 Disaster Management Act and enable each department to direct certain actions under matters falling within its legislative mandate. Explaining this on Thursday in a media statement providing insight into government intervention measures announced on Sunday, Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the regulations were ‘designed to create a regulatory framework for government to respond to the Covid-19 virus in an integrated and co-ordinated manner’. ‘They enable us, as government, to focus on preventing a disaster and, where applicable, reduce the risk of disasters,’ the Minister continued – adding that, as an emergency preparedness regime, they ‘activate government’s capacity’ for a ‘rapid and effective’ response in specific situations.

Against that backdrop, the new regulations deal with the release of resources; the prevention and prohibition of gatherings; ‘the refusal of medical examination, prophylaxis, treatment, isolation and quarantine’; identifying and availing places of quarantine and isolation; the closure of schools and partial care facilities; the suspension of visits to correctional centres, remand detention facilities, holding cells, military detention facilities and Department of Social Development facilities (including child and youth care centres, shelters, one stop centres and treatment centres); limitations on the sale, dispensing and transportation of liquor; emergency procurement procedures; and the ‘authority to issue directions’. As has already been widely reported, the regulations were gazetted on Wednesday – with the official declaration of ‘a national state of disaster’.

They provide context to the necessary disaster-related regulations on international air travel; ports; consumer protection from unfair pricing; and the allocation of healthcare services and supplies (involving exemptions from sections 4 and 4 of the 1998 Competition Act, dealing with restrictive horizontal and vertical practices). According to Business Day, the exemptions will facilitate collaboration between the public and private sectors on making the best use of hospital facilities. All new regulations are immediately effective.

Meanwhile, the Independent Communications Authority of SA is working with network service providers on ways of facilitating ‘easy and affordable (and/or free) access to data’ as increasing numbers of the country’s citizens use the internet to work, learn and continue essential day-to-day activities from home. This is also noting that the ‘spike in data usage’ could strain network capacity. According to Thursday’s media statement, ‘regulatory concessions or relaxations’ are being considered.

Thursday’s announcement by South African Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago of a ‘cut the repo rate by 100 basis points’ was described by the Daily Maverick as another ‘dramatic’ move underlining ‘the gravity of the unfolding economic and social crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic’. ‘Covid-19 is likely to result in weaker demand for exports and domestic goods and services,’ Kganyago said in his Monetary Policy Committee statement, also referring to the likelihood of ‘disruptions to supply chains and to normal business operations’. However, the impact of the virus on SA’s economy ‘could be partly offset by lower oil prices’.