Some coronavirus restrictions in South Africa 'unconstitutional', 'invalid': HC

Fakir Hassen

Johannesburg, Jun 2 (PTI) A South African high court on Tuesday said some of the coronavirus restrictions in the country were 'unconstitutional' and 'invalid'.

South Africa in March had implemented the coronavirus lockdown, including a ban on alcohol and cigarette sales. The government is gradually easing the restrictions. The country is currently on the third of five levels.

A group called the Liberty Fighters Network (LFN) in May moved the court against the restrictions, arguing that they were unlawful and violated South Africa's Bill of Rights.

During the hearing of the case, the North Gauteng High Court ordered a review of the nationwide lockdown regulations for level 3 and level 4.

In a statement, the South African Cabinet said the judge has declared regulations governing lockdown levels 3 and 4 as 'unconstitutional' and 'invalid'.

'The court suspended the declaration of invalidity for a period of 14 days. This means that the Alert Level 3 regulations remain in operation for now,' the statement said, adding that the Cabinet will make a further statement once it has fully studied the judgment.

South Africa on Monday eased the coronavirus restrictions to level 3 of a five-level risk-adjusted strategy to combat the spread of the deadly virus, which has infected over 35,810 people and claimed more than 700 lives in the country.

The lockdown regulations have increasingly come under fire from various organisations, opposition parties and individuals, many citing the inconsistencies as different ministers made conflicting statements on implementation of the guidelines.

One of the biggest outcries has been about the decision to lift the ban on alcohol sales in level 3, but retaining the prohibition on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products.

Another controversial regulation allowed the sale of foods from restaurant for home delivery only and no collection by buyers in level 4. Consumers circumvented this by ordering food and having it delivered to their cars parked in the shopping centres where the restaurants were located.

Judge Norman Davis referred to a number of other lockdown regulations which appeared to be 'irrational', including restrictions on funerals, exercising in public places, prohibiting hairdressers from reopening their business until the last level of the lockdown is reached and allowing only certain types of clothing to be purchased during the lockdown.

'One need only to think of the irrationality in being allowed to buy a jersey but not undergarments or open-toed shoes and the criminalisation of many of the regulatory measures,' said Davis, noting that a number of other interventions by the government were indeed rational in combating the COVID-19.

'Despite these failures of the rationality test in so many instances, there are regulations which pass muster. The cautionary regulations relating to education (closure of schools), prohibitions against evictions (during the lockdown)...and the closures of night clubs and fitness centres, for example, as well as the closure of borders, all appear to be rationally connected to the stated objectives,' the judge said. PTI FH SCY