Source: Seán Mfundza Muller, The Conversation, 7 December 2020, photo credit: Hunterstock.com/Pharmaceutical Technology
Senior Lecturer in Economics, Research Associate at the Public and Environmental Economics Research Centre (PEERC) and Visiting Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Study (JIAS), University of Johannesburg
Eight months ago, when South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a strict lockdown for an initial 21 days in response to the COVID-19 threat, the decision was widely praised. A few critics, including myself, disagreed. I warned against “a strident ‘conventional wisdom’ which holds that governments and societies should respond through drastic measures”. I argued that the government had moved too rapidly to drastic measures, and that the negative consequences might outweigh the benefits. I said this would constrain South Africa’s options later in the pandemic.
Evidence on the widespread harms of the lockdown and government decisions to weaken regulations when case numbers were increasing corroborates these arguments. Many commentators now agree the government’s approach was not optimal. But they still argue that we can only say this with the benefit of hindsight. I disagree. The reasons why the government’s actions and approach were likely to be flawed were already evident at the outset.