President Cyril Ramaphosaa has spoken on the key issues facing South Africa during its coronavirus lockdown, – including the ban on the sale of alcohol and the closing of schools.
Speaking through a virtual Presidential Imbizo on the coronavirus on Wednesday evening (15 July), Ramaphosa highlighted new data showing that the country lost as many as three million jobs during the first few months of the lockdown.
However, he stressed that this was not a uniquely South African problem – citing the fact that the US had lost as many as 26 million jobs during the same time period.
“Our response has got to be robust and has got to be pointed so that we can protect our people as we move on,” he said.
Ramaphosa said that the country’s economy effectively came to a stop which prompted the introduction of a R500 billion support package.
He added that other support, including the UIF and business loan schemes, are aimed at helping businesses weather the storm.
Despite this, he said that total job losses in the country will be ‘massive’, adding that a number of interventions will be put in place to support the unemployed.
This will include massive job creation through infrastructure projects, and the development of the rural economy, and agricultural growth, he said.
The president said that the government was forced to reintroduce the prohibition on the sale of alcohol as hospital beds were being taken up by alcohol-related trauma cases.
However, he said that this should be seen as a ‘suspension’ on the sale of alcohol ‘for a while’ to allow for the country’s healthcare systems to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is not a ban, it’s a suspension to allow our health system to be able to cope,” he said.
Alcohol sales and distribution were banned by the president on Sunday with immediate effect – catching the liquor industry by surprise.
However, the government has said that there is a clear correlation between an increase in hospital trauma cases, and the reintroduction of alcohol sales.
“Data from level 4 and level 5 lockdown indicated a massive reduction in alcohol-related trauma. This has fed into the decision to reinstate the sales suspension,” health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said in a media briefing on Monday.
“Some of the modelling that was done to predict the impact of an alcohol ban showed that the suspension of alcohol sales could result in a 20% reduction in all trauma (cases) and 40% reduction in all alcohol-related trauma by the third week,” he said.
Ramaphosa also confirmed that the government is in talks with industry stakeholders about the potential closure of the country’s schools.
The president said that the matter is of ‘great debate’ and noted that a number of teachers unions have called for schools to be closed based on ‘lived experiences’.
“It is a matter that is now being debated and being discussed with the respective organisations and it will be given consideration by the National Coronavirus Command Council as well.”
Ramaphosa was also asked why the government allowed schools to open while prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people.
The president said that the government did not really consider classrooms ‘gatherings’, and insisted that there should safe distancing rules in place.
Notwithstanding this, Ramaphosa acknowledged that a number of teachers and learners have become infected.
“The World Health Organisation has cautioned that in countries where there is still a rise in infections, it would not be wise to reopen schools.
“There has also been a clear voice and message from teacher unions and we will also listen and engage and we are discussing this matter. In our typical consultative way, we will come up with a way forward on the issue of schools.”
Speaking on the continued ban on the sale of cigarettes, Ramaphosa said that it is a ‘complex problem’ that government based on scientific advice.
However, similar to his comments on alcohol, Ramaphosa said that this is not a ‘ban’ but rather a suspension that will be ‘resolved’ as the country moves to a lower alert level.
Ramaphosa acknowledged that the issue was akin to holding a ‘prickly pear’ and that there are no easy answers.
Taxis and family visits
Ramaphosa was also asked why the country’s lockdown regulations prohibit people from visiting family members, but allow people to travel in confined public transport such as taxis.
He explained that those who travel in taxis, and other forms of public transport, are allowed to do so for commercial reasons as the country opens up its economy.
He stressed that people should only be leaving their homes for specific reasons.
“We are saying that people who leave their home are either going to work, seeking medical attention, buying necessities or doing exercise.
“Those are the categories which are allowed at the moment. Casual visits are precisely what we believe spread the virus and we want to limit those as much as we can.
“Obviously we want taxis to take great precautions and ensure they take the necessary precautions,” he said.