President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a two-week extension to the country’s nationwide lockdown which started on March 26.
The country has just concluded its second week in lockdown that saw most industries close their businesses – barring essential service workers in the medical, food and communication and security sectors. This lockdown would have ended on April 16 at the end of a three-week period, but South Africans will now have to stay in their homes until April 30, as the state works to flatten the curve of Covid-19 cases.
“If we end the lockdown too soon or too abruptly we risk a massive and uncontrollable resurgence of the disease; we risk reversing the gains that we have made over the last few weeks and rendering meaningless the sacrifices that we have all made,” said Ramaphosa as he appealed to South Africans to endure a little longer.
The increase in confirmed Covid-19 cases has been rather slow since the country’s nationwide lockdown started: moving from 1 170 cases on day one to 1 934 cases on Friday. This represents an increase of 764 cases in two weeks.
This compares with global figures, which went from 340 000 cases to over 1.5 million in the same period, with over 90 000 people dead.
Ramaphosa said the global trend indicated that South Africa’s decision to “announce a lockdown was correct and timely.”
He added that while it is too soon to give a definitive analysis of the progression of the virus in the country, there is sufficient evidence to show that the lockdown is suppressing the speed at which the number of new infections are increasing.
“In the two weeks before the lockdown, the average daily increase in new cases was around 42% and since the start of the lockdown the average daily increase has been around 4%,” said Ramaphosa.
Regulations remain in place
Ramaphosa stated that the current regulations will also remain in place until the end of April and, without giving specific deadlines, he said the government would over the “coming days” assess what risk-adjusted measures can be implemented to ensure a phased recovery of operations in certain sectors “under strictly-controlled conditions.”
“I am keenly aware of the impact this will have on our economy,” said the president.
“But I know, as you do, that unless we take these difficult measures now, unless we hold to this course for a little longer, the coronavirus pandemic will engulf, and ultimately consume, our country”.
Government’s strategy is to save lives and protect livelihoods Ramaphosa said. This will be done in three parts. It involves an intensified public health response to slow down the spread of the virus; a comprehensive economic support package to limit the devastation to businesses and workers; and increased social support to protect poor and vulnerable households.
There are currently several government and private sector initiatives meant to soften the blow of the lockdown on firms in distress and individuals who are facing a loss of income.“Cabinet will be developing a comprehensive package of urgent economic measures to respond both to the immediate crisis and to the severe economic challenges that we must confront in the months ahead.
“Further announcements on the next phase of our economic and social support strategy will be made in due course,” he said.
From Ramaphosa’s speech, it would appear that the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has increased the funding available to assist distressed businesses who will not be able to pay their employees from R30 billion R40 billion.
The UIF fund, called the Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS), has made payments of R356 million.
Ramaphosa also called on businesses to continue to pay their suppliers as far as they can so that their businesses are not disrupted.
“In this respect, I would like to appeal to all large businesses not to resort to force majeure and stop paying their suppliers and rental commitments, as such practice has a domino effect on all other businesses dependent on that chain,” he said.
“We must do all we can to ensure that the underlying economy continues to function and to focus support on those small businesses that really need them”.
Salary cuts in cabinet
Following in the footsteps of executives in the private sector, Ramaphosa announced that he, together with the deputy president, ministers and deputy ministers will each take a 33% cut in their salaries for the next three months, which will be donated to the Solidarity Fund.
“We are calling on other public office bearers and executives of large companies to make a similar gesture and to further increase the reach of this national effort”.
The Solidarity Fund which pools in resources and donations from companies, organisations and individuals to combat the coronavirus pandemic, has raised around R2.2 billion.
Ramaphosa said the fund has allocated some R1 billion to buy medical supplies such as sterile gloves, face shields, surgical masks, test kits and ventilators. It would also be allocating funds to support vulnerable households in addition to the R400 million set aside by the government for Social Relief of Distress grants.