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Postpone October polls says South African research council

Image: GovernmentZA [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Local elections set to coincide with anticipated start of country's fourth Covid-19 wave

South Africa’s local government elections should be delayed from October 27 to next year to avoid exacerbating a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, the country’s medical research body has said.

The South African Medical Research Council issued the warning in a submission to a national inquiry into the holding of fair and free elections during Covid-19. The inquiry is led by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, and is expected to publish its recommendations toward the end of this month.

The SAMRC’s submission, published online on 2 July, says that late October might see the start of a resurgence of Covid-19 infections, peaking in January 2022.

Holding elections, with the likelihood of political rallies and other gatherings, could spur the spread of the virus, the council says. Reductions in susceptibility to the virus from the national vaccine effort are likely to be “marginal” by the end of September when election rallies would be expected to take off in earnest.

“We recommend that the elections be postponed to a time in the future when there is a demonstrable decrease of severe disease, hospital admissions and deaths as a result of high coverage of effective vaccinations,” the SAMRC says. This would likely be in 2022 when life returns to normal as a result of mass vaccination, it adds.

A faster vaccination rollout could allow the government to hold the elections “sooner rather than later” it says, but warns: “Proceeding with elections now, as things stand and as we know them to be, will put the lives of thousands of South Africans at risk.”