Sunday, April 26, 2020

South Africa Discusses Lifting Lockdown Sector by Sector
Ramaphosa administration wants phased reopening to limit damage to struggling economy

South Africa’s lockdown has been extended once and another has not been ruled out © Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg
Financial Times
APRIL 23 2020

South Africa’s government has discussed lifting its coronavirus lockdown sector by sector as it looks to ease the impact of the quarantine measures on its struggling economy.

A draft government presentation, seen by the Financial Times, discussed a possible five level “alert system” that would enable President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration to gradually reopen sectors with a low risk of Covid-19 transmission, where the economic impact of a prolonged shutdown would be particularly severe.

Mr Ramaphosa was expected to reveal, later on Thursday, what he has called a “risk-adjusted” approach to reopen an economy that is currently forecast to contract by more than 6 per cent this year.

Mr Ramaphosa’s office did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether or not the cabinet had decided to move forward with the proposed system, but a phased reopening has been widely discussed in South Africa. The new proposal was first reported by local media.

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 130,000 tests and about 3,600 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed. At least 65 people have died.

Public health experts, however, have warned Mr Ramaphosa to be cautious. “If we end the lockdown too soon or too abruptly, we risk a massive and uncontrollable resurgence of the disease,” Mr Ramaphosa has said.

The present nationwide lockdown has been extended once and experts have not ruled out a further extension.

In the proposed phased system, South Africa’s national command council, a body overseeing its pandemic response, would set the alert levels based on public health advice.

The fifth level of alert would be the highest and would effectively continue the current lockdown, with only essential services open and a ban on moving across provinces.

If South Africa moved to level four, opencast mining pits could reopen and underground mines could operate at half capacity. Online food delivery and the sale of alcohol at limited times would be permitted if South Africa reached level three. Only at level two and level one would most and then all sectors reopen with free movement between provinces restored.

“Restrictions on economic activity need to be adapted to epidemiological trends and may need to be relaxed and tightened in different periods,” the proposal said.

Use of alerts “would allow for flexibility and responsiveness” and aid business planning. “Different levels could be imposed on specific provinces and areas based on the risk of transmission,” it added.

Under the proposal restrictions on restaurants, hotels, cinemas and sporting events would remain in place regardless of the level of alert.

The proposal said the continuation of the strict nationwide lockdown could ravage jobs and the ability to pay wages in critical sectors such as mining and tourism. Mr Ramaphosa has already announced fiscal measures worth $26bn (500bn rand) to relieve rising economic distress in the lockdown, at a time when South Africa's state coffers were already strained.

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