Government debating whether whole of SA will move to level 3 lockdown, says Fikile Majola
Parliament - The government is planning to move South Africa to level 3 lockdown restrictions soon but parts of the move were still under discussion, including whether it should apply to the whole country, Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Fikile Majola said on Friday.
"It is quite clear that the big issue facing government, facing the country now is how do we move the country to level 3, and the measures that we need to take to get to level 3," Majola told Parliament's portfolio committee on trade and industry.
"The government is in the process of finalising consultations with regard to how we move to level 3... We will now certainly move to level 3."
Majola added that government had received advice on various aspects of scaling down the restrictions introduced in March in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, "in some cases conflicting advice with the regard to the wisdom of moving definitely to level 3".
Part of the discussion was whether to place the whole country on a lower lockdown level or to retain those with high infection rates at a higher level. This debate has been raging for some weeks about the Western Cape, which has more than 60 percent of the country's confirmed Covid-19 cases.
"There are several things we are looking at, including whether we are going to be applying a differentiated approach to applying level 3 or should we move the whole of the country to level 3," Majola said.
Majola said he expected President Cyril Ramaphosa to make an announcement in this regard soon.
Director-general Lionel October told the committee that the department's focus was on safely reopening industry and repairing the damage the shutdown did to the economy.
"The lockdown has achieved its objectives, it has flattened the curve, it has bought us five, six weeks of time for us to prepare for this, and all the provinces have put in place active measures to be able to deal with the increase in the infection rate," October said.
"Of course it has had a devastating impact on the economy and our job now remains to ensure that we have a proper easing of the lockdown, move to level 3, move to level 2 and in that period all the health and safety measures are in place."
He said the department was acutely mindful of warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to nations that a rushed return to full economic activity could see a second wave of infections of the novel coronavirus.
October also stressed that though the government believed the lockdown was successful in lowering the rate of transmission, South Africa would not escape the full impact of the virus that has claimed more than 332 000 lives globally.
"There is now way we are going to be stopping the epidemic."
October said the latest interest rate cut by the South African Reserve Bank was among the measures taken to minimise the impact of the shut down of the economy since late March on the gross domestic product (GDP).
The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) on Thursday cut the repo rate by another 50 basis points to 3.75 percent.
But October stressed to a great extent, South Africa's recovery will be influenced by that of its big trade partners, including the United Kingdom and Germany, as they now began easing Covid-19 restrictions. Others, such as Brazil, were only now entering the critical stages of the pandemic.
"We are highly exposed to international trade," he said.
October was briefing the committee in the absence of Minister Ebrahim Patel, who is ill.
In response to criticism from the opposition to government's decision to use empowerment criteria in extending crisis relief to companies, he said it was in line with standard government policy.
"We see no tension between these two imperatives, between repairing an economy and transformation because we have embedded B-BEE into our programmes."
It is reliably understood that the debate about level 3 also includes a standoff between ministers who oppose the trade of alcohol and cigarettes, which is allowed under the draft regulations for this level.
Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is said to be arguing within ANC circles for the ban on alcohol and cigarette sales to be maintained up until level 1.