The official opposition to the governing party of the nation, the Democratic Alliance has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that Alert Level 1 of the Covid-19 lockdown will be implemented from midnight on Sunday, but says it comes five months too late and that Ramaphosa is to blame for what it calls the country’s “socioeconomical devastation”.

The president made the announcement on Wednesday evening and it means that larger gatherings will be permitted, along with international travel, the sale of alcohol from Monday to Friday and a curfew that is extended until midnight.

In his address to the nation, the president said the country had weathered the Covid-19 storm, but he warned of a potential second wave of the pandemic and asked citizens to continue to be vigilant.

However, DA interim leader John Steenhuisen, reckoned that it was a case of too little too late.

Steenhuisen said “Although it has come far too late, we welcome the move to Level 1, including the opening of international borders and lifting of more restrictions on economic and social activity. We repeat our call for the state of disaster to be ended and the curfew to be lifted fully”.

“Now that the virus is in retreat, we need to take stock. The DA will call for a parliamentary debate and ad hoc committee to assess the government’s management of South Africa’s Covid response. President Ramaphosa and his government must be held to account for the avoidable socioeconomic devastation which is the net impact of lockdown.”

Steenhuisen further said that most of the economy should have been fully opened five months ago when the DA first called for it.

He said “It was already clear by mid-April that a severe, prolonged lockdown would have devastating socioeconomic consequences, including thousands of excess deaths to other diseases, millions of livelihoods lost, millions of households plunged deeper into poverty, thousands of businesses destroyed, widening inequality, and billions of rands of tax revenue lost, revenue which should have been pulling people out of poverty.

“Every life lost is a human tragedy. Life lost to poverty, other diseases, gender-based violence, suicide, and depression may be harder to quantify than life lost to Covid, especially as these consequences of lockdown will accrue over decades, rather than months. But less visible is not less valuable,” said Steenhuisen.

He added that by mid-April, the initial alarming Covid-19 death-toll predictions had already been revised sharply downward and it was already known that Covid-19 did not pose a significant risk to healthy people below the age of 65.

The interim leader continued that “It is unforgivable that government did not then amend restrictions accordingly to keep the response proportional to the multiple risks we face as a society.

“It had also become abundantly clear by mid-April that lockdown was a luxury South Africa could not afford. Government had amply proved by then that it did not have the capacity to bridge struggling households and businesses over even a three-week lockdown, let alone a six-month lockdown – nor feed hungry schoolchildren. It was also clear by then that millions of people were facing risks from other diseases due to lack of access to vital medication, healthcare, testing and vaccines.”

He added that it was also clear by mid-April that South Africa’s most vulnerable households – those living in cramped conditions in townships – were not physically able to adhere to lockdown restrictions. “In other words, that lockdown would not be effective at slowing transmission in large parts of the population. Lockdown is a blunt instrument that should have been replaced five months ago with more targeted interventions to slow the spread of the disease.”

He said that the lockdown was an “unaffordable way to buy time” to prepare South Africa’s healthcare system, “especially as provinces other than the DA-run Western Cape – failed to use the time effectively to build additional capacity. Many eminently qualified people from a variety of disciplines called for an end to lockdown months ago, including vaccinology professors Shabir Mahdi and Glenda Gray, who are on the government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee.

Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa’s government can only rescue the situation now by implementing wide-ranging, pro-growth economic reforms to roll back mounting poverty, a pandemic much more deadly than Covid”.