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Lockdown extension is probable – Cosatu

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Cosatu said it thought a limited extension was probable but that sectors of the economy and regions with a low infection rate should be granted some level of exemption.

AS SOUTH Africans ponder the possibility and the implications of the Covid-19 lockdown stretching beyond April 16, Cosatu said it thought a limited extension was probable but that sectors of the economy and regions with a low infection rate should be granted some level of exemption.

“We don’t know, but there are daily discussions at Nedlac (the National Economic Development and Labour Council), with three schools of thought apparent,” the Cosatu’ parliamentary co-ordinator Matthew Parks said.

Parks said one of the possibilities was a long extension of the lockdown through most of the winter but that this would amount to “economic annihilation”.

The most likely option is prolonging the lockdown for a further fortnight or three weeks, which would in itself spell significant difficulty for the economy, companies and individuals. Even resilient major retailers, such as Pick * Pay and other big supermarket chains, were expected to feel the blow in this case scenario, Parks said.

To mitigate this, Cosatu was mooting allowing sectors such as mining, which already has been granted authority to continue operations in a reduced fashion, further leeway and broadening the list of goods that retailers who have continued trading are allowed to sell.

“They are allowed to sell food, so could we not allow them to sell other goods as well so that at least additional revenue comes into the stream?” Parks asked.

He said Cosatu was also putting on the table the possibility of easing lockdown conditions in towns and even provinces that so far have a relatively small infection rate.

“Should Limpopo with 11 infections really remain in total lockdown? Or can we allow towns like Port Nolloth, with none, to resume normal activity but impose a boundary around it?”

Governments around the world have extended lockdown measures, designed to drive down the rate at which Covid-19 spreads, beyond an initial three-week period. Some, like France, have tightened isolation rules.

But economists have cautioned that South Africa, stripped by Moody’s of its last remaining investment grade sovereign rating, and saddled with 30 percent unemployment, lacks the leeway of European nations to shut down the economy for a longer period.

The South African Reserve Bank’s (SARB) Monetary Policy Committee has warned that the current 21-day lockdown could cause 370 000 people to lose their jobs and 1 600 businesses to go under.

SARB governor Lesetja Kganyago added a further warning on Monday that, overall, the pandemic could see the economy contract by four percent this year.

Cabinet is expected to weigh the wisdom of an extension of the lockdown at a meeting today.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that the government would in the coming days make a “scientific assessment” of how effective the lockdown was in terms of containing the Covid-19 infection rate. But he ventured that without it, the number of infected would have been far higher.