The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) says that the country’s coronavirus lockdown has served its purpose and that it is now time to open the economy.
Briefing parliament’s on Friday (22 May), the department said that a large part of the economy is expected to reopen as the country moves to level 3 of the lockdown next month.
DTIC director-general Lionel October told the parliamentary portfolio committee that although the lockdown has had devastating effects on the economy, it has achieved its objectives and the provinces are now prepared for an increase in cases of Covid-19.
However, he noted that there is conflicting advice on South Africa’s planned move to ease the lockdown, especially from the World Health Organisation, which has advised that the rate of infection must first fall before countries can begin to relax lockdown.
“Government is in a process to finalise consultation with different stakeholders on how to systematically reopen industries and get the economy back to work,” he said.
“Industries will be required to ensure worker safety and protection as a condition to return to business and companies who do not put safety measures in place will be forced to close.”
October said that the DTIC has already taken a number of steps to help reopen the industry, including the opening up of e-commerce and parts of the automotive sector.
Move to level 3
President Cyril Ramaphosa and his National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) are expected to present detailed plans on the country’s move to level 3 restrictions in the next week.
While the president has confirmed that more industries and employees will be allowed to return to work, there are still concerns around certain topics such as the sale of alcohol and liqour.
News24 reports that Cooperative Governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is pushing for a prohibition on the sale of tobacco and alcohol until the country reaches Level 1 of the lockdown.
In an NCCC meeting this week, Dlamini-Zuma reportedly argued that the sale of these items would cause significant health risks.
Other issues that were reportedly discussed include the further reopening of the restaurant industry, the reopening of hairdressers, and the limited resumption of domestic flights.
President Ramaphosa has announced that most of South Africa will move to level 3 lockdown restrictions by the end of May.
However, he noted in an address to the nation on Wednesday evening (13 May), that a number of ‘hotspots’ which have reported a high number of cases will likely remain at level 4 restrictions.
This was reiterated by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize in a presentation this week (19 May), in which he warned that the number of cases per district is variable and that some districts have ‘very few cases’ and others have ‘significantly more’.
“There is little value in stringent measures in those districts where there is low or no infection,” he said.
“In those districts where there is high infection rates (active cases), this should be the focus of intensive action. Hence the focus of our interventions and restrictions should be aligned to the burden of infection (active cases).”
According to Mkhize’s presentation, the key metric being used to decide on these lockdown levels is the number of active cases/100,000 South Africans in each district.
Districts that currently have less than 5 active cases per 100,000 population (highlighted in red and yellow below) should be “under vigilance”, the document recommends.
We are ready
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the chairperson of the committee advising government on Covid-19, has said that lockdown needs to be one of many strategies in place. He told ENCA that there are many factors which need to be factored in around what level we should be in.
Karim said that if looking at one of those factors, namely community transmission, then the answer to the question of whether South Africa is ready to move to level 3 lockdown, is yes.
The professor said that while South Africa avoided a rapid growth of infections of Covid-19 initially, we should expect to see the numbers increase.
He said it is difficult to tell what the final numbers might be; however, the projections by experts of 40,000 deaths in the country, “sound plausible” at peak.
A group of academics and health experts advising the government warned earlier this week that based on their modelling, at least 40,000 people could die with coronavirus in South Africa by the end of the year.
Karim said that schools can feasibly reopen provided they have in place protocols around safety, including social distancing, and the provision of hand sanitisers.