The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) has called on the government to allow certain business sectors to reopen after president Cyril Ramaphosa extended the country’s lockdown period by an additional two weeks.
The business body, which has a membership comprising approximately 20,000 small, medium and large enterprises, commended president Ramaphosa on his leadership and management of the current crisis.
“We acknowledge the difficult but necessary decision, to further place South Africa in lock-down for the next two weeks, as there is still no certainty on the real effect of the current 21-day lock- down measures,” said Sacci chief executive officer, Alan Mukoki.
In an address to the nation on Thursday evening (09 April), the president, said that after careful consideration of the available evidence, the National Coronavirus Command Council decided to extend the nation-wide lockdown by a further two weeks beyond the initial 21 days.
“This means that most of the existing lockdown measures will remain in force until the end of April.
“We will use the coming days to evaluate how we will embark on risk-adjusted measures that can enable a phased recovery of the economy, allowing the return to operation of certain sectors under strictly controlled conditions,” said Ramaphosa.
In this regard, Sacci suggested “a staggered return to business, starting with industries who can demonstrate high levels of social distancing and health control, like the Fast Food Outlets (FFOs) industry”.
This industry, Mukoki said, already operates with high health and safety standards and can be done under the following Covid 19 pandemic health risk mitigation conditions:
1. All staff can be appropriately and consistently tested for health and Covid 19 infection.
2. All staff to be provided with the relevant personal protective equipment where applicable. For example Masks.
3. The outlets to maintain the highest of standards of hygiene.
4. The industry to make suitable arrangements for the transportation of their staff to and from work, and to ensure that the chosen mode of transport meets the highest of health standards.
5. To start prepared food orders can be distributed through drive-through and delivery channels, then followed by take away or call-and-collect under strict social distancing. No sit downs to be permitted.
Sacci reiterated that South Africa entered a technical recession before the start of this health pandemic.
“In the period since then we have also been downgraded to junk by the ratings agencies,” Mukoki said.
“Even without this pandemic, our economy would have faced significant problems in the areas of macro economy performance and prospects, with negative GDP growth, a worsening exchange rate, adverse rising inflation and interest rates, plus a potential exploding unemployment crisis that can trigger social and political instability,” he said.
Sacci said it believes that FFOs are a good responsible choice to slowly bring back business with an important food offering that serves most South Africans.
Additionally, the majority of FFO fall in the category of SMEs. “Allowing them to go back to work under these strict conditions, releases the pressure on the SME relief support measures and UIF funds,” said Mukoki.
“Given the constrain in public finances, the relief measures will not be adequate to stem the downward tide, as the cash is likely to burn out in a matter of weeks.
“This cannot be a sustainable strategy,” he said.
The FFOs employ more than 150,000 people. Many businesses are likely to close down and there will be major job losses as a result, Mukoki said.
“The key words are phased and controlled, to ensure that the return to work is not going to be counter-productive to the objectives of controlling the pandemic.
“We believe the mitigation measures that have been proposed and the Fast Food Industry is prepared to work with, are more than adequate.
“To protect the SA economy from a total collapse, we have to look beyond the lock-down as the only option,” Mukoki said.