Amid growing opposition to some of the restrictions to be imposed as part of South Africa’s Level 4 Covid-19 lockdown, which begins on May 1, Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel has sought to outline the philosophy underpinning the country’s evolving approach to working during the pandemic.
Speaking after Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma outraged and confused many by reversing President Cyril Ramaphosa’s proposed easing of a ban on the sale of cigarettes, while announcing the imposition of an irrational three-hour restriction, from 6:00 to 9:00, on outdoor exercise, Patel moved to explain the delicate balancing act government would expect working South Africans to undertake during Level 4.
During this phase some of the measures imposed during the hard Level 5 lockdown would be eased “so that the economy can pick up speed” and some people could return to work.
The risk-adjusted strategy, which was Gazetted on April 29 following a short consultation period during which some 850 business and union submissions were made, would enable businesses across various sectors to resume operations in phases.
“As government, of course, we want to reopen the economy an get full production and employment back as quickly as possible. But this has to be carefully balanced with the need for a deliberate and cautious approach to easing the lockdown measures so as to limit movement of people – the virus does not move, it’s people that move [and] we shift the virus in society.”
In the absence of such caution and the taking of active precautions there was a risk, Patel said, that the rate of infection would increase to a point where the healthcare system was overwhelmed, which could result in the re-imposition of a hard lockdown.
“Our main focus must be to avoid a significant rise in infection rates that lead to loss of life and will take us back [from] many of the gains that have been made through the enormous sacrifices that firms and workers and consumers and others have made. We must not give up those gains by how we reopen the economy.”
He described Level 4 as an important preparation phase for ensuring that the economy and workplaces are “ready for Covid”.
“It will prepare the economy for the next six to eight months, because the scientists are telling us that we must prepare for a period where the virus will still be circulating very actively in our society at least for six to eight months.”