Sunday, April 26, 2020

Ramaphosa Prepares to Reopen South African Economy Gradually
Five-week shutdown to be eased stage by stage according to a series of rolling levels 

‘We must avoid a rushed reopening that could risk a spread, which would need to be followed by another hard lockdown, as has happened in other countries,” said Cyril Ramaphosa © REUTERS

Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg
Financial Times
APRIL 23 2020

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the country’s pandemic lockdown would ease and shift to a system of rolling restrictions from May, as he prepares to reopen Africa’s most industrialised economy gradually.

Mr Ramaphosa said in a national address on Thursday that five weeks of ordering all but essential workers home would shift to a “risk-adjusted strategy through which we take a deliberate and cautious approach” to restarting economic activity.

Under a five-level system of alerts, the present strict national lockdown, classed at level five, will move to level four after the end of this month, allowing limited reopening of some businesses under strict conditions. Levels could also change region by region depending on the severity of local outbreaks.

“We cannot take action today that we will deeply regret tomorrow. We must avoid a rushed reopening that could risk a spread, which would need to be followed by another hard lockdown, as has happened in other countries,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

South Africa has managed to slow down infections since ordering all but essential workers to remain at home five weeks ago.

It imposed the lockdown early, when the country had registered about 400 cases and zero deaths.

The government has since conducted over 140,000 tests and about 3,900 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed. At least 75 people have died.

South African public health experts have constantly warned of the risk of a surge in infections to come — even as the country’s health system has bought time.

Due to the lockdown, the economy is forecast to contract by more than 6 per cent this year, after years of what was already stagnant growth.

Earlier this week Mr Ramaphosa announced fiscal measures worth $26bn (R500bn) to relieve the rising economic distress at a time when South Africa’s state coffers are already strained.

What Mr Ramaphosa called a “gradual and phased recovery of economic activity” from the end of April will still mean that South Africa’s borders are closed, travel between the country’s nine provinces will be prohibited, and all passengers taking public transport will have to wear masks.

Cinemas, theatres, concerts, and other entertainment venues will remain shut regardless of the level of alert, Mr Ramaphosa said.

“All businesses that are permitted to resume operations will be required to do so in a phased manner, first preparing the workplace for a return to operations, followed by the return of the workforce in batches of no more than one-third,” he added.

Other African nations are also preparing to ease some lockdown restrictions. Ghana lifted measures in two big cities this week.

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