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Ramaphosa announces a shutdown extension to April 30 as...


Covid-19 #Lockdown Double-down

Ramaphosa announces a shutdown extension to April 30 as he takes a 33% pay cut 

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Simon Dawson / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Existing steps are working. So there will be more. But expect exemptions to allow for a limited restarting of the economy in an extended lockdown. 

 The lockdown to stop the path of the coronavirus in South Africa is working — and that is why there must be more. On the eve of the Easter weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 14-day extension of the country’s lockdown to April 30. Ramaphosa revealed that analysis by scientists has shown that the daily increase in confirmed infections had slowed to a daily average of 4% during the lockdown from a daily increase of 42% in the two weeks before lockdown.

Infections are now confirmed at 1,934 people, up from 1,170 infections at the beginning of the lockdown on March 20. 

“There is sufficient evidence that the lockdown is working,” said Ramaphosa as he announced that the executive (the Cabinet and deputy ministers) and provincial premiers will take an immediate 33% pay cut to be funnelled to the Solidarity Fund which has ballooned to a balance of R2.2-billion since its launch on 23 March. Of that amount, it has already spent R1-billion on protective equipment.

“During the last two weeks, your lives have been severely disrupted, you have suffered hardship and endured uncertainty,” said Ramaphosa as he announced an additional two weeks of necessary hardship. 

“Incomes have been lost and the economy has ground to a halt,” he said, but still extended the lockdown indicating that a powerful lobby in Cabinet to lift the lockdown for the sake of the economy had lost out.

“Much is being asked of you,” said Ramaphosa, as he told the country that the lengthened lockdown is a “matter of survival. We must do all in our power to prevent the massive loss of life”. 

It is clear that in a robust debate in the National Coronavirus Command Council, a structure of 20 Cabinet ministers with support from leading scientists, the decision to extend the lockdown was won on numbers other than the rapid decline in economic growth projections. The economic projections suggest South Africa is headed into a depression – a condition even more severe than a recession.

But Ramaphosa fell on the side of life. He told South Africans that “the global coronavirus pandemic has worsened”, as he recounted the grim statistics. Since he announced the first lockdown two weeks ago, cases have grown to 1.5 million worldwide from 243,000 at the start of SA’s lockdown on 26 March, and 90,000 people have died in total. Ahead of the extended lockdown, Ramaphosa sought and received the support of political party leaders, he said.

Ramaphosa said that expanded testing would help to understand the real extent of South Africa’s infection rate, but that “real progress” had been made.

“Closing borders and prohibiting gatherings, and changes to behaviour have definitely slowed the spread.”

Daily Maverick reported that the mining industry is likely to start up operations next week which suggests there will be targeted exemptions to allow for a firing-up of the economy. Ramaphosa said “most lockdown measures” will remain in place and that those that will be lifted will be announced in due course. There will be a “phased recovery of the economy under strictly controlled conditions” while public health interventions “will be ramped up,” said Ramaphosa. There are likely to be certain other sectoral exemptions from the expanded lockdown.

“I ask you to endure even longer (and) make greater sacrifices. Unless we take these measures now, the coronavirus pandemic will engulf and consume our country.” The president also announced an intensified public health response (likely to be South Korea-styled testing and other measures), a package of support measures for businesses and individuals and increased social support for poor households. 

This could include an increased child grant which is widely recognised as the best measure to support the poorest households, especially those in informal settlements. As testing is increased in the most vulnerable parts of South Africa, those who test positive will be isolated at special facilities.

Ramaphosa said that the UIF had paid out R356-million in the two weeks since it announced special relief for companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak while the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) had approved R530-million for health equipment as part of the relief of R3-billion it had set aside.

Ramaphosa appealed to big businesses not to resort to declaring force majeure and to continue to pay their suppliers. Further details on which regulations remain and which will change for the expanded lockdown are expected after the Easter weekend. DM


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