With parts of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, it is looking increasingly likely that the country could see the introduction of localised lockdowns.
While these surges would ideally be controlled through existing rules, Business leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive Busi Mavuso said the country will see some areas with infection rates that cannot be contained on level 1 regulations alone.
“From a business perspective, it is critical that we leave us much of the economy to operate as possible,” Mavuso said.
“That means that when we must shut down economic activity, we must do it in a way that focuses on the areas where infection rates are most in need of control, with minimal collateral damage to the wider economy.”
Mavuso said that this means:
- Keeping lockdowns localised;
- Allowing the rest of the country to function as close to normal as possible;
- Setting clear indications for which rate of infection will trigger these lockdowns; and
- Clearly indicating which rules will apply.
“I can understand the temptation for political decision-makers to make sweeping national decrees. They are simpler to enforce and non-compliance is easier to identify. But the cost of simplicity is unnecessary economic damage.”
From a public policy perspective, Mavuso said that government needs to put effort into a regional approach to lockdowns in order to deliver the best outcomes.
She said that the country also needs a policy approach that sets out what levels of infection rate will trigger additional measures and what rules will apply.
“If we get set that down, we can then look at the complexity involved in enforcing them. I expect businesses would widely support such an approach and add resources necessary to manage compliance,” she said.
While the Western Cape government has made it clear that South Africa cannot afford another nationwide lockdown, it, along with the Eastern Cape, have mooted implementing tighter restrictions in hotspot areas – a type of mini lockdown, or snap lockdown, similar to those seen in Europe.
Weekend reports indicated that these localised lockdowns could be pegged at level 3. However, economists at the University of Stellenbosch’s Bureau for Economic Research (BER) have questioned the plausibility or viability of implementing this level of restriction.
“While in theory, local, or snap lockdowns could be a sensible approach to ensure that a region’s health system can cope with a sudden rise in cases, it will be challenging to implement this in practice – especially ahead of the festive season,” it said.
“Furthermore, local lockdowns will be a setback to the economic recovery in those regions.”
The main markers of lockdown level 3 included restrictions around on-site consumption of alcohol, leisure travel, social visits, large gatherings, and businesses with more than 100 employees.
Under these rules, people were prohibited from leaving their homes except to travel to and from work, to shop, to exercise during set hours or for emergencies. Hotels and accommodation were closed and domestic travel was prohibited for leisure purposes.