Public policy and economic ideas which were hitherto seen as radical, even utopian, have become mainstream thinking during the crisis, the breadline survey of people throughout Africa suggests.
One particularly striking finding, according to UJ’s Professor Alex Broadbent, is that the widely followed simulation models for projecting Covid-19 deaths are producing results that have been bouncing up like an unpredictable fever, and now the team is criticising it as flawed and misleading for both the public and policy makers. In particular, they warn against South Africa relying on it as the basis for sustaining lockdown at either level 5 or level 4.
The work also suggests that better models approached in a structured way would substantially aid in the adaptive response approach to re-opening the economy.
The results are contained in a policy framework co-authored by Professor Broadbent with a team at the UJ Institute for the Future of Knowledge including Anthony Kaziboni (MA), Research Coordinator; Benjamin Smart (PhD), Director of Future of Health and Medicine; Oluwaseun Tella (PhD), Senior Researcher and Damian Walker (PhD), Senior Research Associate). The framework is accompanied by a decision tool to allow policy makers, and the general public, to assess the impact of various scores and weightings to different considerations. Commenting on the report, Professor Broadbent said, ‘We are trying to bring balance and reason to the debate about lockdown and what comes next. We have our views about what should happen, but more important than these, we want to offer a structure for policy-makers to make and communicate decisions in a way that leaves nothing – and no-one – out.’
Prof Broadbent adds, “Various studies, press reports, and interventions by senior scientists and politicians emphasise different things, and there is little joined up thinking. Press reports of both high and low infection rates, warnings from various advocacy groups about the effect of lockdown on other health services or the economy, and the desperate pleas of those worst affected by this crisis – the one in four South Africans living in poverty – are not being brought together in a coherent policy response. We hope to assist policy makers in doing this – and, crucially, in communicating their reasoning to the public.”
The review of the evidence contained in the report says that the lockdown in South Africa lacks an evidence base. Various restrictions were introduced following 15 March including social distancing, alcohol sale restrictions, and travel restrictions. Two weeks later, on 27 March, there was a marked decrease in the rate at which infections were increasing. Also on 27 March, South Africa went into a stringent “full lockdown”. The report indicates that this change was too early to be due to the lockdown, and is more plausibly attributed to the less restrictive measures introduced previously. Since then, the report says, the rate at which infections are growing has remained on the same curve.
The report goes on to explore in greater depth the priorities of South Africans revealed in surveys pre-Covid-19. This showed that health, food & nutrition, Governance and enforcement, jobs, education and social security are major concerns for South Africans across the continent. This means, for each “Lockdown Level” or other bundle of measures (or individual measure), an assessment can be made from the perspective of each of the policy priorities identified. The assessment includes both a weight and a score.
- Score indicates how well the level of lockdown or bundle of measures performs against the priorities. Scores are out of 10.
- Weight indicates how important a priority is relative to others. Weights are percentages and must sum to 100%.
Calling for people to join the debate, Prof Broadbent urges the use of the framework offered in the report. The framework allows the user to keep the overall situation in mind and not become obsessed with one set of predictions or concerns: “The user has no option but to stay in touch with the big picture, which is of fundamental importance when making policy decisions.”