The Department of Communication and the Government Communication Information Services have outlined their communication strategies around the coronavirus in South Africa and providing accurate information.

In a parliamentary presentation, acting minister of communications Jackson Mthembu acknowledged that while other countries’ presidents communicate with their citizens at regular intervals, Ramaphosa communicates to the public less frequently.

“Other presidents may appear in public at regular intervals, but ours speaks to us when it is necessary – when he gives broad guidelines; when there are major announcements to be made that govern various regulations that are expected in various levels of lockdown,” he said.

On Monday (11 May), Ramaphosa said that South Africa will focus on ramping up screening, testing and its case management programme, as it enters its peak period of combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Writing in his weekly letter to the public, the president said that while there is still much about the pandemic that is unknown, “experts now agree that the virus will remain a threat to global public health for some time. We must therefore be prepared to continue to live with the coronavirus among us for a year or even more,” he said.

Ramaphosa acknowledged that people have become frustrated with the curtailment of their personal freedom.

“At the same time, health experts around the globe are warning of a ‘second wave’ of infections as public life resumes. A number of countries including Germany, Iran and China have seen a rise in new infections since they relaxed certain restrictions.

“We will be no different. We can and must expect infections to rise as more people return to work. We must accept the reality, prepare for it and adapt to it,” the president stressed.

Transparency around smoking and cigarettes

A number of the parliamentary members also asked Mthembu about transparency in relation to the continued ban on tobacco and alcohol.

They noted that these need to be explained in detail to do away with the apparent inconsistencies in how they are currently being handled.

However, Mthembu said government was clear on its decision to prohibition alcohol and smoking.

“Tobacco attacks the respiratory organs. If we allow it to be available for sale, we would not be doing justice to the campaign to fight this respiratory pandemic. Its current ban is based on health reasons.”

On alcohol he responded: “In most cases people don’t enjoy drinking alone, but with friends. If we allow the sale of alcohol, we would also be defeating our fight against the pandemic.”

He reminded South Africans that “we do sell cigarettes and alcohol under normal circumstances, but we are in an abnormal situation and we cannot act as if it’s business as usual.”

Mthembu added that the heart of the fight against the pandemic is a change of behaviour.

“We can do our level best to communicate all the precautionary rules and regulation in the fight against it, but what is critical now is that we need a change in behaviour in order to win the war against the pandemic – now, and afterwards.

“When you think we are not doing what we ought to do, tell us, we will concede to that. We can only learn from your collective wisdom.”

Read: The next phase of our national response to coronavirus: Ramaphosa