Will allow Eight million workers to get back to work
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on May 24 in his televised address to the nation that South Africa would move to a Level 3 (out of 5 levels) on 1 June. Although Ramaphosa had been praised for his swift action to contain the spread of the virus with his first address on March 15, a mere 10 days after the first coronavirus case had been reported, the government had been criticized for its slow response on the economic side.
The national lockdown has seen a drastic reduction in economic activity and during the current Level 4 lockdown many citizens are ignoring the rules and there has been an increase in illicit trading in tobacco and alcohol, both of which are banned currently.
Although the lockdown succeeded in cutting the daily increase from 243 on March 27 to only 17 the following day and then kept the daily increase below 100 until April 17 during the Level 5 lockdown, there has recently been a trend upwards and on 24 May the number of daily cases was 1 240.
Most epidemiologists expect some form of lockdown to continue until after the normal winter flu season, or in other words until September. This reality was acknowledged by Ramaphosa when he said that the worst is still to come.
“The scale and the speed of the public health response to this emergency has been impressive, but there is still much more that we need to do. We have known all along that the lockdown would only delay the spread of the virus, but that it would not be able to stop it,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa said the move to Level 3 was a “significant shift in our approach to the pandemic”. The move will see some 8 million people return to work amid the significant lifting of restrictions on economic activity, commerce and public transport.
Restrictions on public gatherings and “sectors where the risk of transmission is high” remain in place. At level 3, all manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, information technology, services and media services, will commence full reopening from June 1. Wholesale and retail trade will be fully opened, including informal traders.
There was a lifting of limitations on exercise, which was limited to the hours of 6am to 9am, and the unpopular ban on alcohol sales. The ban on tobacco sales remains in force. The 8pm to 5am curfew will be removed.
Dawie Roodt, the chief economist at the Efficient Group said lockdown fatigue had already set in and many people were ignoring the rules.
“People were moving out of lockdown anyway. Nevertheless it will help the economy somewhat. But the lost production will take years to recoup,” he said.
South African steel production fell by 99.5 per cent year-on-year in April so the move to Level 3 was welcomed by steel producer ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA). At Level 3, AMSA will be able to operate with 100 per cent of its workforce, but the company will only fully restart operations as the demand for steel becomes visible in the order book.
“The health and safety of our employees remains a priority and we used the lockdown period to ensure that the necessary measures are in place, according to national health protocols and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, to safeguard our employees as they return to work,” AMSA CEO Kobus Verster said.
Business for South Africa’s (B4SA’s) Martin Kingston said South Africa needed to adopt a new mindset to combat Covid-19.
“The consistent use of nonpharmaceutical interventions (masks, hand washing and sanitising, social distancing) must become second nature for every individual and every organisation. We must all ensure that working practices are adapted to meet the health, safety, and hygiene protocols required to combat Covid-19,” Kingston said.
Business Leadership South Africa CEO Busi Mavuso said the pressure was now on business to innovate and adapt to the crisis.
“If we can demonstrate that operating supports, not hinders, the fight against the disease, then there will be a rapid move through the lockdown phases,” Mavuso said.
Helmo Preuss in Pretoria, South Africa for The BRICS Post