Sense needs to prevail as government considers new policies to limit the impact of the third Covid-19 wave in South Africa, says Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive Busi Mavuso.
Citing the economic costs of South Africa’s last three ‘hard’ lockdowns, Mavuso said any additional restrictions being considered for South Africa’s third wave must focus on protecting both lives and livelihoods.
“We now have clearer insight into the impact of certain policies on the economy as well as the impact on health outcomes. Businesses have invested to be able to operate safely – the priority must be to set out safe operating protocols and let business get on with adapting to them.
“Bans, curfews and shutdowns are hugely damaging and have a questionable impact on public health. Let us get the balance right.”
Mavuso cited the alcohol industry which has faced four bans during the pandemic, most recently over Easter. The industry has calculated that it lost R36.3 billion from the first three bans alone.
“Unnecessary damage was caused by the fact that bans were open-ended, so the industry could not even plan for how long they would need to suspend operations for,” said Mavuso
“The industry-funded independent academics and researchers to assess the impact of these bans on hospital admissions, the purported point of the bans, and found that South Africa’s 60% reduction in trauma admissions was in line with others around the world which had no alcohol bans.
“In the UK the drop in trauma admissions was 57%, 62% in Ireland and 54% in the United States.”
Mavuso said that similar consideration should be given to other parts of South Africa’s economy which have received less attention but have also been decimated by the lockdowns.
“Statistics South Africa data show the number employed in the trade sector fell by 300,000 before the pandemic compared to the last quarter of last year,” she said.
“Most of those who lost jobs were women. This is a big part of the 1.3-million jobs we still have not recovered since the start of the pandemic.”
The latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), released last week, also shows that the country’s second wave of infections and associated lockdown at the start of 2021 led to net job losses with significant labour market churn.
Between October 2020 and January 2021 there was still significant churning in the labour market with about one-fifth of those employed in October not employed in January, and about a fifth of those not employed in October finding work in January.
“These results indicate a worsening in employment and transition outcomes in response to the second wave of Covid-19 infections and the more stringent lockdown level, but that the declines in employment were relatively small compared to the effects of the initial Covid-19 April lockdown level 5,” the researchers said.
Government in talks
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says that government will hold meetings this week to discuss further lockdown restrictions for South Africa.
In an SABC interview on Friday (14 May), Mkhize said that the country’s Covid-19 cases have surged this week and that provincial governments and hospitals have been warned to prepare for an influx in cases.
“We have had quite a lot of discussion about it and at some point we are going to have to start looking at additional restrictions which will have to be put in to try and reduce the numbers.
“That will come from discussions with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC),” he said.
Mkhize said that his department will make recommendations around the size of gatherings as well as others measures that had been relaxed under the country’s current level 1 lockdown.
“The reality is that we all have to keep doing what we have been doing. (When) the numbers start rising up we have to start increasing the restrictions and when the numbers come down we have to keep things relaxed.
“We have to balance so that people have a life, can continue working and get to their places of work.”