Murray Williams – News24
South Africa is headed for a “partial lockdown”, says Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, as the next likely phase after the current super-strict stay-at-home order.
This, to ease the developing economic crisis stemming from the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is a first glimpse into what a “new normal” world may look like across trade, commerce and every-day life in South Africa.
News24 can report the current “full lockdown” is likely to be eased to a “partial lockdown” for certain economic sectors in the weeks to come.
This is part of the national plan to flatten the curve, not only to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, but simultaneously flatten another curve: the plummeting economic curve.
On Saturday, President Cyril Ramaphosa met the country’s premiers, with his ministers and selected experts, at the President’s Coordinating Council (PCC).
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde – who served previously as both finance and economic development and tourism MEC – told News24: “At the end of the lockdown, we can’t go back to where we were. Every aspect of life would be affected, and would have to adapt to a ‘new normal’,” Winde warned.
On the next phase of the lockdown, Winde said: “They’re calling it a ‘partial lockdown’.”
This would most likely be based on different economic sectors, and would be carefully “phased” in its timing.
On the urgent economic need, Winde said: “Everything in the health department, that gets done to try to flatten the curve, has a converse reaction, and that is in the economy, going the opposite way.
“So we also need to try to flatten the negative curve in the economy, at the same time. And that means giving some kind of leeway,” such as liberating certain parts of the economy from the current strictures.
Winde said both health and economic specialists were giving their input to the national government’s leadership, to find this balance.
These would next be presented to the president at the national Cabinet on Monday, Winde said.
Asked if the president and premiers had been presented with explicit economic forecasts and scenarios, Winde said: “The economic presentations definitely show that. They are very scary to see. Obviously I can’t publicly talk about them, because the presentations that get made in the PCC are secret documents.”
But Winde said it was these dire projections on the economy which made it essential to flatten “both curves”.
“We’ve got to try to mitigate risks on both sides,” Winde urged.
The decision to open up certain economic sectors would hinge on a crucial question, he explained: “Which businesses are going to represent the lowest risk?”
‘Own set of rules’
Winde said: “It’s an interesting dynamic, because right now, in ‘lockdown’, the businesses that are the highest risk, are the ones that are open. Right now, where you’re getting your positive tests are in all our retail outlets – from the small guys in Khayelitsha, to the big hyper-stores. Because it’s a natural phenomenon – that’s where people are gathering, so that’s where transmission happens.
“We’re finding it in the factory spaces – pharmaceutical, agriculture, or food processing, you’ll find that because people are congregating, coming to work, there is transmission.
“So the message to businesses is going to be: You’ve got to come up with your own set of rules” – to ensure strict physical distancing, proper hygiene, professional standards and all necessary protocols to prevent any transmission of the virus.
Winde described this as a “Covid-19 de-risked new normal way of doing business”. And every business that wished to trade would require these strict protocols.
“If you’ve got Covid-19 cases, the first thing the health department is going to do is close you. So if you can show you have proper processes they will say you can open again,” Winde predicted.
Winde hoped permission-to-trade would focus on “businesses which are least susceptible”, and cited an example: “Two or three guys that run an ICT company.”
“Their back office will require a set of protocols. But their front counter might not exist like it did in the past – they will perhaps just have deliveries and collections,” Winde said.
“A restaurant can develop the same thing. They will now have to have certain protocols inside the kitchen, so they minimise transmission, and, they will deliver, or have collections.”
Asked how businesses would need to demonstrate they had the necessary levels of safety in place, Winde said it was likely different sectors would be categorised, according to risk.
For example: “A high-risk sector would be a sector that has lots of people – either on the production side or the sale/customer side.”
The agricultural sector had already developed protocols for its high-risk activities during the lockdown, ensuring food supply.
For example, some agricultural operations had deployed a third of their staff in pack houses, at any one time and are rather running three shifts, Winde detailed.
Some sectors may have additional challenges.
“The tourism industry is the one that is unfortunately going to take longer, because their customer base is being kept away,” Winde said.
In the meantime: “We’ve still got two weeks of ‘lockdown’. Hopefully we’ll see in the last week some relaxation so everyone’s still in lockdown, except for – those sectors which would be exempt under the ‘partial lockdown’.”
But there would be a flip-side to easing up on certain parts of the economy in a partial lockdown. This would be to ensure that severe risks were still managed tightly.
“There will be constant ‘lockdown’ for people at risk. So if you are elderly, or if you suffer a lung disorder, or lung disease, TB or asthma, you need to be in 100% lockdown, no matter what. But the situation may be different for other demographic groups.
“If we have a look at statistics around the world, younger people seem to be less susceptible. They may be carriers – so they obviously have to follow all the rules. But perhaps they can go back to school or back to university,” Winde said.