Namibians At Shangula's Mercy

21 September 2020

Following the lifting of the state of emergency by president Hage Geingob, minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula will now direct Namibians and businesses on the new normal going forward.

Shangula is empowered by the Public and Environmental Health Act 1 of 2015, section 29(1), which stipulates he has the authority to close entertainment and other businesses.

The minister can prohibit public gatherings, which are currently limited to 50 people.

He can also establish regulations instructing any person to take action that is reasonably required to prevent, control or abate a disease, and use guards and force to ensure adherence.

Shangula on Saturday said decisions will be made in the same way as under the state of emergency.

"The same structures will be used. It will not be a one-man decision. Just read the Public and Environmental Health Act, and specifically section 29," he said.

The act allows the minister to make directives and regulations he considers necessary to alleviate a public health emergency.

It gives Shangula the authority to isolate and quarantine individuals who have contracted Covid-19 or are suspected of having contracted the virus.

He may also decide to close schools and restrict attendance of schools and other learning institutions.

Minister of justice Yvonne Dausab yesterday said the laws applicable to dealing with the novel coronavirus are: section 20(1) of the National Health Act 2 of 2015, which deals with the chief health officer, and the Public and Environmental Health Act 1 of 2015.

Dausab said Shangula is required under section 22(2) to first declare the coronavirus as "a formidable epidemic disease", which he has done.

"As such, Covid-19 is a public health emergency. Under section 31(1), he may constitute emergency management and response committees.

"But I am sure to avoid duplication of efforts, the minister can make use of the existing Cabinet committee and the inclusive technical committee that has been managing the pandemic during the state of emergency," she said.

Shangula may also rope in the assistance of the National Disaster Risk Management Committee.

Dausab further said there are over 36 specific provisions dealing comprehensively with managing a pandemic.

In terms of the act, anyone who contravenes or fails to comply with the directives or regulations commits an offence, she said.

"Unlike under the state of emergency regulations, it [punishment] will not exceed N$100 000 or 10 years. This means people must not take a public health emergency lightly," she said.

The police would be the authorised agents for purposes of managing the pandemic in the way envisaged by the act.

The drafters of the act and the attorney general are finalising directives to provide more clarity and to ensure that powers and regulations are in line with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, Dausab said.

'PARTIES ALL OVER'

The minister said the way in which Namibians have reacted to the lifting of the state of emergency is concerning, with parties abound, funerals crowded and people keeping their masks in their pockets.

"There's just no sense of discipline and taking collective and individual responsibility for the health of all of us. This is unfortunate, but we continue to monitor the situation and will adjust measures as we deem fit at the appropriate time," she said.

Political analyst Ndumba Kamwanyah said in the absence of the lockdown, the Ministry of Health and Social Services is the guiding authority to all matters relating to Covid-19.

"What it means is that the health of Namibians is in their own hands by following and adhering to recommendations and measures put in place by the health ministry," he said.

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