Business Maverick

CORONAVIRUS

Lockdown lift to be ‘incremental’, with mining industry officially beginning to restart 

Minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma briefs the media on the details of government interventions in various sectors of the departmental portfolios on COVID-19 at DIRCO Media Centre on March 16, 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa. It is reported that President Ramaphosa declared COVID-19 a national state of disaster and announced sweeping measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. (Photo by Phill Magakoe/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The relaxation of South Africa’s lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic will be ‘incremental’, Minister of Cooperative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma announced on Thursday. There will be no sudden return to normal and amendments will be made each week for a gradual relaxation of the rules. The mining industry and oil refineries now have the green light to begin rebooting.   

Various ministers led by Minister of Cooperative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma gave a televised and online media briefing to provide an update on the Covid-19 lockdown regulations going forward. 

“We cannot end the lockdown abruptly,” Dlamini Zuma, a trained doctor pointedly wearing a face mask, said. The current lockdown is still scheduled to end on 30 April 2020, but the floodgates will not come down then and some, or many, restrictions on movement will remain in place. Amendments will be made on a weekly basis. 

In the mining sector, some mines have been operational such as those that provide coal to Eskom and others, and as we reported last week, it is cranking up slowly.  

“We have agreed the mines must start operating at 50%,” Dlamini Zuma said. Strict regulations are in place. These include: A rigorous screening and testing programme must be implemented as employees return to work; the mining industry must provide quarantine facilities for employees who have tested positive for Covid-19; and mining companies must make arrangements to transport their South African employees from their homes to their respective areas of operations. 

Operational mines, dangerous places at the best of times, can become death traps during shutdown periods. Gases can accumulate and the integrity of support structures that prevent rock-falls can become compromised, so some of the initial work will be on preparation before full production can resume. Mining and Energy Minister Gwede Mantahse said it would be “wishful thinking” to expect the sector to be fully up and running by early May 2020. 

Oil refineries will be coming back on line quickly, given their critical importance to the economy.

“The refineries must ramp up and operate at full capacity so we don’t run out of fuel,” Dlamini Zuma said. 

Other amendments pertain to the retail clothing and hardware sectors: 

“Clothing, blankets, towels, cots mattresses, teething rings, pacifiers, bibs, feeding bottles, and other non-consumable goods essential for the care of babies and toddlers, may only be sold by a retailer who is otherwise permitted to sell essential goods,” the new regulations say. Winter is around the corner and people want to buy warmer clothing and blankets. 

“Hardware, components and supplies may be sold as required by any qualified tradespersons solely for the purpose of essential repairs at residential homes and entities engaged in the provision of essential services for any project related to the provision of water, electricity or other essential services,” is another change. This will provide some employment for electricians and plumbers, among others. 

In addition, “Call centres necessary to provide health, safety, social support, government and financial services, debt restructuring for consumers of retailers, and access to short-term insurance policies as a result of reduced income or loss of income,” will be allowed to operate. 

Police Minister Bheki Cele said that Neighbourhood Watch and other community patrols will remain grounded and prohibition is still firmly in place. 

Government has a delicate balancing act between reopening parts of the economy while containing the pandemic. Stay tuned for the next set of amendments. Lots of people, smokers and drinkers among them, have their wish lists. BM

 

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