Western Cape premier Alan Winde has warned that every decision made around Covid-19, particularly relating to lockdown regulations, has a knock-on-effect, most notably unemployment.
The premier, who contracted the virus last week, was responding to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s Sunday address in which he said the country will remain on lockdown level 3, while reintroducing some new lockdown rules with immediate effect, as the number of Covid-19 infections rise in South Africa.
Among these is a re-ban on the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol as well as the reinstating of a curfew between 21h00 and 04h00.
While inter-provincial taxi capacity will remain at 70%, local taxis will now be able to ferry 100% loads. Meanwhile, wearing of masks is now mandatory.
“We cannot look at the Covid-19 pandemic in isolation. Every decision that we make in the fight against Covid-19 has a knock-on-effect, causing a number of other challenges that are detrimental to the well-being and health of our people,” said Winde.
“The reality is that every single province in South Africa is now also facing a catastrophic unemployment pandemic. Millions of people are going to lose their jobs, if they haven’t already. The consequences of this jobs crisis are severe.
“It is causing a humanitarian crisis that will impact our poorest and most vulnerable residents. This has very real health consequence and it will also cost lives.”
Winde said that the Western Cape Government has sought balance.
“We must save lives now, but also save lives in the future too. We must slow the spread, and ready our health-systems, but we must do it in a way that still allows for safe economic activity that will help put food on the table for our residents.”
“We need a long-term, behaviour change approach to alcohol harms-reduction,” said the premier.
During Alert Level 4 and Hard Lockdown, when alcohol sales were initially banned, the Western Cape saw a marked decrease in the number of murders in the province- particularly stabbings.
“We also saw a significant decrease in the number of admissions to our hospital facilities for alcohol-related trauma events. However, after sales were unbanned on 1 June, we saw an almost immediate and notable increase in the number of murders and a surge in trauma admissions again.”
“This has put additional strain on our healthcare system, especially in our high care and ICU units where we are trying to save the lives of those people infected with Covid-19,” he said.
The premier said that the link between alcohol and violence is well established and a ban on alcohol sales may result in a reduction in incidents of murder, gender-based violence and trauma events such as road accidents, and assaults – and for this reason, can have an immediate impact on hospital capacity.
However, he said that this is a blunt mechanism that will negatively impact the Western Cape economy and the Agri-processing sector, and will result in job losses across the province.
“It will also push the sale of alcohol ‘underground’, with less control over registered sales by our liquor authority. To put it simply, while this may help in the short term, the problem is not going to go away and a long-term ban is not feasible.”
The liquor industry warned in a statement on Monday, that it has a wide and deep value chain employing almost one million people across the country.
“The government’s decision has serious economic consequences, placing hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at risk,” it said.
Winde said that the ban on leisure tourism accommodation is strongly opposed by the Western Cape.
“I am deeply concerned by the effective banning of all leisure tourism accommodation as promulgated in regulations. The tourism sector, which employs over 200,000 people in the Western Cape has been dealt a severe blow, without proper scientific evidence or reasoning to support it being excluded.”
He said that the leisure tourism accommodation that can open safely, following proper safety protocols, should be allowed to do so. “We need to view the tourism sector as a partner in our Covid-19 pandemic, and work with them to adapt to this new normal.
“The failure to do this will likely see the sector decimated, with more than 50% of jobs being lost. The knock-on-effect for the overall Western Cape economy will be severe.”
The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) has made urgent calls to the government to hear the plea of the sector and reopen domestic interprovincial leisure travel immediately, thereby significantly reducing the number of retrenchments across the sector.
The industry, it said, loses R748 million every single day during lockdown.
The TBCSA, estimates a loss of 600,000 jobs if the sector remains closed with knock-on effects in other sectors. Roughly 49,000 SMMEs have already been negatively affected and many have already permanently closed shop, it said.