Johannesburg – All eyes are on President Cyril Ramaphosa as he prepares to address the nation yet again on Thursday night with interest largely pinned on which lockdown regulations may be eased.
The president has, however, been advised to adopt a staggered approach to reopening the economy and ensure that workers are protected from Covid-19.
Ramaphosa unveiled his administration’s R500 billion socio-economic response to the deadly coronavirus this week and undertook to provide details of measures to be undertaken to reopen the economy beyond the 35-day national lockdown.
The response he announced on Tuesday includes R100bn to protect and create jobs, R50bn in temporary social relief, R40bn for the health response and emergency water supply, increased sanitisation of public transport and facilities, food and shelter for the homeless.
Ramaphosa also secured a R200bn loan guarantee scheme with major banks, the National Treasury and the SA Reserve Bank to cover companies’ operational costs such as salaries, rent and payment of suppliers.
Economist Mike Schussler on Wednesday said Ramaphosa had to allow most shops and factories to resume functioning with social distancing strictly enforced, while schools should be reopened in such a manner as not to impact children.
Schussler suggested that restaurants should be kept closed for another week or two while members of the public should be forced to wear masks.
According to Schussler, public transport should also resume with social distancing room and subsidised trips for transport operators to endure fewer passengers. He said public transport subsidies should be in place for two months until the coronavirus curve is flattened and companies should co-ordinate their staggered opening at different times to ensure that public transport did not get full and social distancing was maintained.
Internationally-recognised epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, also the government’s chief adviser on Covid-19, also suggested a systematic approach to keeping infection rates low while easing the lockdown in stages.
Karim warned that an abrupt return to normality might increase the spread of the virus and the plan should include a systematic easing of the lockdown over several days and a stepwise approach to reduce risk of rapid transmission, taking into consideration economic imperatives and social disruption.
Cosatu backed Ramaphosa’s plans to gradually reopen the economy as long as proper protocols were developed to keep the workers safe from the disease.
“Workers and employers must begin a process of consultation in the bargaining councils to conduct risk assessments,” Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said.
The federation has called on big corporations to free their own resources and match the amount that the government has placed on the table. However, Cosatu believes Ramaphosa’s Covid-19 economic and social response is still R500bn short and has cautioned against corruption in the distribution of the funds amounting to 10% of the GDP.
“Nothing less than a R1 trillion stimulus plan will be sufficient to turn our already-bleeding economy around and save workers from the pain of sky-rocketing unemployment levels,” Pamla said, adding that every cent must go towards serving its intended purpose.
“Corruption of any kind must not be tolerated. “The ANC-led government must lead decisively to root out all forms of corruption that might rear its ugly head as we endeavour to raise funds to fight the spread of Covid-19,” the federation said.
Apart from the Unemployment Insurance Fund and re-prioritising R130bn from the current budget, which will be tabled by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni at a date expected to be announced by Ramaphosa today, global partners and international finance institutions have also been approached.
Schussler said the country should be able to access at least R400bn through the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) special drawing rights and special coronavirus funds established by the IMF, the World Bank and BRICS’s New Development Bank.
Public sector union Nehawu on Wednesday demanded that Mboweni prioritise the payment of salary increases for front-line workers fighting Covid-19 with immediate effect when he revises the budget and reverse the decision to cut the public service wage bill.
While it is unclear if the country’s lockdown will be extended beyond April 30 or not, the chairperson of the FW de Klerk Foundation, Theuns Eloff, says an unfettered lockdown will have dire economic consequences for the country. In a piece published on Tuesday, Eloff argued that it seemed logical and responsible to immediately ease the lockdown regulations considerably so that the economy can begin recovering.
“It is absolutely necessary that the debate on Covid-19 and the lockdown be deepened to include the negative consequences of the present lockdown, including future economically- related deaths caused by deepening poverty.
“It is, finally, very important that President Cyril Ramaphosa balances the economically-related deaths and suffering and the health-related deaths before he and his Cabinet decide on easing the lockdown regulations,” he said. He added that even Karim admitted that the country has already utilised the benefits of the lockdown. “This is a clear indication that we now have to look at easing the lockdown immediately,” he said.
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