25 April 2020
Members of the fourth estate;
Good Morning, thank you for having taken the time to listen to us as we enter the next phases of our fight against COVID-19.
The world, and our nation have not been faced by such a potentially daunting challenge since the 1918 Spanish flu and the 1932 Great Depression. You will recall that the Spanish Flu decimated more than 300 thousand South Africans over a two-year period.
Despite the advancement of humanity in areas such as technology and science, over the past century, COVID-19 has the potential to have a greater and more devastating impact in a much shorter space of time.
It has depressed global economies with the World Trade Organisation estimating an up to 32% shrinkage in global trade. COVID-19 also landed on our shores at a time when our economy was under tremendous strain. This was worsened by the revision of our ratings to junk status by all three of the major international ratings agencies.
As announced by the President on Thursday, we are currently at level four, we will therefore elaborate on the added measures easing of lockdown we will put in place. We are still under a lockdown. It is the actions we undertake now which will determine whether we remain on four or regress back to Level 5, under stricter measures. We will therefore have to maintain some strict health measures which we should observe in both public spaces and the workplace.
It is “a challenge to be met, not a threat to be feared”, to quote Bethany Teachman a psychologist.
Our winning nation is up for the challenge.
In this risk adjusted approach seeks to set us on that winning path. Never before have we practically seen that the health of one individual is intrinsically linked to the health of another person as well as the community, nation and indeed the world. Our individual health and wellbeing depends on the actions of others. We must therefore act responsibly, or else our individual action can lead to the death of others or generations.
Fellow South Africans, you may recall that in the first two weeks, since the first case was discovered on our shores on 5 March the virus infection rate grew over a 100th fold from 1 to 116 cases.
Thanks to our swift action we were able to contain the virus partially through the actions related to the State of National Disaster which we declared on the 15th March. As a result, we managed to slow rate of infection significantly from the projected rate and if we adapt our behaviour, we will indeed be prepared to meet the challenge.
You may also recall that, not being satisfied with the tripling of the number of infections to 402 active cases in the following 7 days, the President announced a National Lockdown on 23 March.
A difficult decision --- in whose absence the health, social and economic consequences would have been far more dire. Had we not acted in such a swift, decisive and stringent manner we would have had about 17 500 infections, today. We currently stand at 4 228, we must therefore act responsibly to ensure that we do not regress or get into a worse situation.
As the President had said at the time, the decision was based on sound scientific data and predictions which motivated us to rally efforts to flatten the infections curve. We had also studied many approaches to dealing with COVID-19 and pandemics of this nature and all of them showed us that “early and more aggressive interventions” would assist us to “grow faster after the pandemic is over”.
Indeed, the virus, has exposed our deep-seated fault lines, including Apartheid spatial planning, as we have said many a time.
However, COVID-19 also offers us an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed-upon structural changes to enable reconstruction, development and growth.
These opportunities call for more sacrifices and --- if needs be --- what Amilcar Cabral called ‘class suicide’ wherein we must rally behind the common cause. The Coronavirus knows no class, race, gender or geographical location.
These sacrifices also call on us to continue some practices and restrictions from the current phase into the future. Paramount are the practices of social distancing, hygiene, and responsible behaviour which includes not spreading fake news. The practice of these have so far contributed to us flattening the curve, particularly during the hard lockdown phase. We must continue and strengthen these practices, as we move into the next phases.
The danger of slipping back and steepening the curve is high and ever present. Consequently, in this upcoming phase we will continue to limit travel and movement and will institute a curfew where everyone has to be in doors between 8pm and 5am except for essential workers. Therefore, if you are not an essential worker or do not work in the prioritised sectors continue to stay at home, except when you are buying essential goods or services or for emergency medical services. If you can, please work from home no matter the sector you are in.
As phycologists Bethany Teachman says we must treat “the coronavirus as a collective challenge that will require shared sacrifices to achieve a difficult but not impossible goal?”. We must take all the necessary precautions including practicing social distancing, hand-washing and restricting travel. Consequently:
1) there will be no interprovincial travel except to return to work with proof of employment, in exceptional circumstances such as funerals (with approval) or for essential services.
2) there will be no recreational travel or to meet friends and family.
3) we must maintain social distancing and have implemented a mandatory use of cloth masks, which can be home made and made from scarfs and/or t-shirts.
Further, in this next phase we remain in lockdown therefore:
(1) No domestic passenger air travel;
(2) No international air and sea passenger travel except in the case of air travel for repatriation purposes;
(3) No public gatherings, organised social and recreational activities with the exception of the current format and protocols of funerals.
However, people can exercise under strict conditions subject to directions which will exclude organised activities recreational facilities and gyms.
The current limitations and protocols on cargo and public transport, including taxi and e-Hailing services, will continue but the minister of transport will announce adjusted directions, after consultations.
Fellow South Africans, we must rebuild the resilience of our economy and communities by unlocking our local production and export potential. These are key and driving considerations of the Risk Adjustment Approach. We will impact on key economic sectors and drivers as well as promote human development and wellbeing, as directed by the President during his Thursday announcement.
In undertaking the Risk Adjustment Approach, we have, together with the National Command Council and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 sequenced and phased in key sectors and priority areas with a view to deepening the fight against COVID-19 whilst rebuilding our economy. This plan spans over six to eight months, because we believe that curve peak will probably arrive in September.
Our approach combines three interrelated systems and considerations, the first determines the five broad alert levels and restrictions that should be imposed nationally, provincially and in districts. The higher the alert level the more stringent the measures and restrictions. Key determinants of the alert levels include community transmissions and the capacity of the health care system to cope.
The rate of testing, the number of positive cases, and the proportion of available and used beds influence the national, provincial, and district ratings.
In this regard, the President in taking these into consideration announced that at a national level we are currently at level 5 indicating a high national virus spread with low capacity to cope with the virus. Thus, we are in a Lockdown. All things remaining relatively equal and given the dividends provided by the lockdown, we will progress to a level 4 next week Friday. This will allow us to ease some restrictions without compromising the progress recorded.
The second system which is an industry classification system determines the readiness of a sector to return to business on a similar rating from 5 to 1. Where five is high risk and one a lower risk. The system also enable us to consider the type of restrictions and or enablers that should be placed on a sector or company. Key considerations in this regard include:
1. The Risk of transmission in the sector,
2. Expected impact on the sector should the lockdown continue,
3. Value of the sector to the economy (including its contribution to the GDP, employment, export earnings and value-chains); and
4. The promotion of community wellbeing and the livelihoods of the most vulnerable.
These factors have both a quantitative and a qualitative elements, however the primary consideration is the health and welfare of our citizens, above all.
Finally, the third system considers the enhanced public health and social distancing arrangements at workplaces and public spaces. In this regard, industries are encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible, and all staff who can work remotely must be allowed to do so.
Additionally, employers must put in place workplace protocols for surveillance, risk assessment and prevention for the spread of infection. This include measures to ensure that:
1. There are stringent social distancing measures in the workplace, including in shared spaces such as shop floors, meeting rooms and canteens;
2. All employees are screened staff on a daily basis for symptoms of COVID-19, including a symptom check as well as temperature assessment;
3. All employees use cloth masks in transit and to the workplace;
4. All workspaces and tools of trade are sanitized and there is sanitisers available or hand washing facilities with soap;
5. There is adequate ventilation in the workplace.
Together with relevant ministers, industries are called upon to finalise industry specific protocols, norms and standards in the common interests of the shared prosperity, health and wellbeing of our nation. There will come a time when we might have varied levels to rank each province and district.
Already the Department of Public Service and Administration is finalising guidelines for public servants, which will also be applicable in correctional and health facilities where the threat has been highest, so far.
The Risk Adjustment Strategy requires collective implementation and understanding. Consequently, we release our full industry classification system today. We will now provide sectors, industries, business associations and trade unions an opportunity to comment and provide us with input and feedback, together with suggestions of improvements.
We recognise that all sectors and firms need to work to grow our economy, however we must carefully phase in economic activities in a manner that protects our future.
We are looking particularly for feedback on key issues we may not have considered or ways to enhance the system without increasing the level of risk, movement and the numbers of people who are not at home.
This feedback window is open for the next 48 hours, with a deadline of midday on Monday. Representations must be sent to the following email address, firstname.lastname@example.org using the prepared template that will be published on the Government website.
As we make our structured comments, we must keep in mind that it is the lives of our people that must reign paramount in our proposals. We must also remember that it is pandemics that depress the economy, public health interventions do not.
I wish to invite my colleagues to elaborate on some of the areas around the new system.
 See amongst others Correia, S et al, Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3561560