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AfriForum prepares for legal action against COVID-19 quarantine camps

The civil rights organisation AfriForum instructed its legal team to start preparing for a legal challenge against certain regulations published by the South African government. The regulations complained of empower the state to prosecute anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 but refuses to be taken to a government-run quarantine camp for COVID-19 patients. It also empowers the state to forcibly quarantine people in government camps, even in cases where these people have the means to self-isolate and intend to do so. An attorney’s letter to this effect was sent today to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Minister of Cooperative Government. In its letter, AfriForum places the Minister on terms and requests a respond within 48 hours. This actions follows on the announcement by Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal, that the provincial government had resolved to discard the policy of self-isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19.

Simelane-Zulu said anyone who test positive for COVID-19 from Sunday onwards would be kept and monitored at state-identified quarantine sites. Sihle Zikalala, the KZN Premier, added that newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients would be “taken” to government-approved isolation sites for treatment.

“The issue with self-isolation – we are saying it is coming to an end,” the Premier said. “Once we have discovered that you have tested [positive for COVID-19], we take you, and that is the end. Up and until you recover, we [will then] release you back into the community,” Zikalala said at a media briefing. These policy decisions and announcements are made within the framework of the national regulations issued by die Minister of Cooperative Government in terms of government measures to be taken to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Minister is requested to agree in her response that a proviso should be added to the regulations to state that people who test positive for COVID-19 and who have the means to self-isolate must be allowed to continue with self-isolation without the threat of being forcibly removed to a government-run quarantine camp. The Minister is also requested to issue a message to the necessary government structures to inform them of this proviso. Failure to comply with these steps will compel AfriForum to consider further legal action in this regard.

Ernst Roets, Head of Policy and Action at AfriForum, states that the conduct of the KZN government makes it clear that the national regulation is irrational, as it provides for measures that are not only draconian in nature, but would also seriously obstruct reasonable efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

“The decision by the KZN government – which was taken according to the national provisions – is a violation of the most basic freedoms and dignities of people and amounts to a measure that can under no circumstances be justifiable in any democracy that is governed by the principles of freedom, justice and the rule of law. Secondly, the obvious consequence of this measure is that people who experience symptoms of COVID-19 or who discover that they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 would simply not subject themselves to testing. In the third place, this decision is clearly irrational in the sense that it places a very heavy and completely unnecessary burden on limited state resources,” Roets explains.

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