Covid-19 an opportunity for economic structural changes, says Dlamini-Zuma
THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic presents an opportunity for South Africa to accelerate implementation of “some long agreed upon structural changes” to enable reconstruction and growth, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told journalists at a media briefing on an upcoming change in lockdown regulations on Saturday.
South Africa will move to a level four lockdown from May 1, following a five-week level five national lockdown which started on March 27 in an effort to slow down the spread of Covid-19 and “level the curve”, as it is popularly referred to.
The new system of five levels of lockdown was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in a televised address to the nation on Thursday night. At the same time he announced the move to level four as of May 1, which allows some sectors to return to work, not just essential services.
Level four will allow shops to sell their full range of products within existing stock; all agriculture (export agriculture including wool and wine, floriculture and horticulture) and related processing; forestry pulp and paper; mining (open cast mining at 100 percent and all other mines at 50 percent); all financial and professional services; global business services for export markets; postal and telecommunication services; fibre optic and IT services; and formal waste recycling (glass, plastic, paper, and metal).
During a virtual media briefing on Saturday morning, Dlamini-Zuma elaborated on what the move down to level four entailed for the sectors concerned.
Regarding conditions of return to the workplace, she said that in addition to generally applicable health and safety protocols, each sector had to agree on a Covid-19 prevention and mitigation plan, approved by the Minister of Health and any other minister relevant to the sector.
Individual businesses or workplaces had to have Covid-19 risk assessments and plans in place and conduct worker education on Covid-19.
Protection measures necessary were identification and protection of vulnerable employees; safe transport of employees; screening of employees on entering the workplace; prevention of viral spread in the workplace; hand sanitisers and face masks; cleaning of surfaces and shared equipment; good ventilation; shift arrangements and canteen controls; and managing sick employees.
Monitoring systems had to be in place to ensure compliance with safety protocols and identify infections among employees. Mass testing should be carried out for workplaces with over 500 workers.
Dlamini-Zuma said the Covid-19 crisis presented a challenge unmatched since the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression, but also “presents an opportunity for South Africa to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed upon structural changes to enable reconstruction and growth”. These would positively impact on key economic and social sectors, which would facilitate a more inclusive economy while unlocking local production and export potential.
“This will require that South Africa sequences and phases its priority areas with a view to deepening the fight against Covid-19 while rebuilding the economy,” she said.
“The risk-adjusted approach was developed through collaboration between the economic cluster departments and the department of health. We have taken into account comments made by business organisations, political parties, unions, and commentators. This proposal takes into account the advice of the Ministerial Advisory Committee that the high-point of the virus spread is likely to be in September, which requires a proposal that covers the next six to eight months,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
In this regard, three systems were envisaged. System one – an alert system to determine the level of restrictions in place nationally, in provinces, and in districts.
System two – an industry classification for readiness to return at each level based on criteria, together with restrictions that should remain after the lockdown regardless of the alert level.
System three – enhanced public health and social distancing arrangements at workplaces and public spaces (including schools and higher education institutions that may reopen during the pandemic period.
The first, the alert system for community transmission, was based on two indicators to be considered – the rate at which the proportion of the population tested (testing coverage) was increasing (higher was better), and the rate at which the proportion of positive tests was increasing (lower was better).
For health care capacity, two further indicators were considered: The rate of increase in fixed and makeshift hospital beds in both public and private sectors per 1 000 population (higher was better), and the rate at which the proportion of hospital beds being used for Covid-19 was increasing (lower was better).
All four measures could change over time. They were not static measures but rather dynamic changes occurring over a period of time (eg, per week) and would influence the level at which the country, a province, or a district would be classified.
System two – the industry classification for readiness to return at each alert level. In order to identify and sequence the possible priority economic areas which would require easing post the lockdown period, an alert system had been developed which considered certain criteria – risk of transmission; expected impact on the sector should the lockdown continue; value (and economic linkages) of the sector to the broader economy (including its contribution to the GDP, employment, multiplier effects, its export earnings, supply-chain linkages, and industrial policy goals); and promotion of community well-being and the livelihoods of the most vulnerable.
Initially, return to work would be based on the national level, but would progressively be expanded to provincial and district level, enabling workplaces to adapt to the level of infection and health care readiness in their locality.
Regarding system three, a comprehensive system of public health and physical distancing arrangements would be put in place covering areas such as encouraging industries to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible, and all staff who could work remotely should be allowed to do so; workers above the age of 60, as well as workers with comorbidities, should be offered a work-from-home option or remain on leave after engagement with employers and the UIF; workplace protocols to be in place that would include disease surveillance and prevention of the spread of infection; disabling contact biometric systems or making them Covid-proof; and guidelines would be developed for public servants as well as correctional facilities.
– African News Agency (ANA)