Between a rock and a hard place: COVID-19 and South Africa’s response

Staunton, Ciara ORCID logoORCID:, Swanepoel, Carmen and Labuschagine, Melodie (2020) Between a rock and a hard place: COVID-19 and South Africa’s response. Journal of Law and the Biosciences, 7 (1) , lsaa052. pp. 1-12. ISSN 2053-9711 [Article] (doi:10.1093/jlb/lsaa052)

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Abstract The spread of COVID-19 across China, Asia, Europe and the United States of America was met with public health responses that initially encouraged hand washing and social distancing. They quickly turned to restrictions on the freedom of movement and assembly in the form of forced isolation, mandatory quarantines and lockdowns. Africa’s first confirmed case was not until 14 February in Egypt and March saw a steady spread of the virus throughout the African continent. Concern began to rise about the impact that the virus would have on a continent that is currently facing HIV and TB epidemics and sporadic outbreaks of Ebola and Lassa Fever. There were fears that the already weakened health systems in many African jurisdictions may be unable to cope with another pandemic and quick and decisive action to stop the spread of the virus was considered to be essential. On 15 March 2020, nine days after the first recorded case in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a State of Disaster. Over the following weeks, a series of regulations were promulgated that limited the freedom of movement and assembly, limited the sale of certain items, specifically prohibited the sale and transportation of alcohol and cigarettes and criminalised the spread of disinformation on COVID-19. Together they represent the greatest limits on the Bill of Rights in post-apartheid South Africa. However, public health strategies such as social distancing and regular hand washing are a privilege many in South Africa cannot afford, especially for thosein crowded informal settlements and who use mass public transport systems. In this paper, we consider these regulations and argue that two major issues are a lack of a community informed response and an over-reliance on the criminal law to this major public health crisis.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Volume 7, Issue 1, January-June 2020: Law and Ethics in the Time of Global Pandemic
Research Areas: A. > School of Law
Item ID: 30689
Notes on copyright: © The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Duke University School of Law, Harvard Law School, Oxford University Press, and Stanford Law School. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence (, which permits non-commercial reproduction and distribution of the work, in any medium, provided the original work is not altered or transformed in any way, and that the work is properly cited. For commercial
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Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2020 09:32
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2021 12:31

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