Data lockdown: Tension simmers as questions are raised about access to Covid-19 information | News24

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Data lockdown: Tension simmers as questions are raised about access to Covid-19 information | News24

Frustration is building among scientists over the government’s apparent lack of willingness to make key, detailed Covid-19 data accessible ahead of a meeting of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on Monday.
According to a member of the MAC – who spoke on condition of anonymity – several members of the advisory body have spoken out during past meetings against the apparent lockdown on data.
The MAC consists of some of the country’s most eminent scientists and advises the health department on the best strategy to counter the spread of the Covid-19 disease.
This follows a turbulent 48 hours in which:
Dr Glenda Gray, head of the South African Medical Research Council, one of the country’s foremost HIV/Aids researchers and a member of the MAC, slammed the government’s lockdown, calling much of it “unscientific” and “nonsensical”; She was supported by other scientists and clinicians, as well as various members of the MAC, who said the MAC was not consulted on some aspects and details of the lockdown; An after-hours meeting of the MAC on Saturday night, during which Gray was reprimanded by Anban Pillay, acting director general of health; and “We have been so transparent and upfront with everything that we haven’t got anything to hide, we haven’t hidden anything. So when we get accused sometimes, we don’t know how to deal with the accusation because we don’t understand what people are now trying to do,” Mkhize said.
READ | Unscientific and nonsensical: Top scientist slams government’s lockdown strategy
According to Professor Alex van den Heever, an expert in health systems and economics, the ability for citizens to take preventative measures to protect themselves from the coronavirus is being hampered by the government’s lack of transparency around Covid-19 data.
So far, the Department of Health has not released modelling data or projections, reports over progress made to identify hotspots through testing and screening, contact tracing, testing data per region, and testing data that shows the growth rate of the epidemic (rate of positive and negative cases found per tests done), as well as data that shows time delays and backlogs in testing.
The daily reporting is based on the number of tests done in the past 24 hours across public and private laboratories – but there is no indication when the samples were collected for those tests.

Modelling and projections, which could show possible progressions of the local epidemic over time, have also not been made public.
Mkhize told News24 discussions were under way to find the best way to release modelling done so far, but it was fraught with pitfalls.

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