Recent reports suggest that a national shutdown could be on the cards if the number of South African COVID-19 coronavirus cases continues to increase.
Last week, Gauteng Premier David Makhura also warned that a state of national lockdown may be where South Africa is headed if the coronavirus outbreak is not contained.
“A lockdown may just be where we are all headed and the decision to do so has to be made by our national leadership,” said Makhura.
“We will raise it with the president. We are watching these numbers very closely and we are worried,” he said.
While a lockdown is an effective way to contain the spread of the virus, Professor Alex van den Heever from the Wits School of Governance highlighted that it should be balanced against the economic impact.
Van den Heever said President Cyril Ramaphosa has to consider two things regarding a national lockdown: the health strategy and the economic strategy.
Ramaphosa consulted with business leaders on Sunday, which Van den Heever said is necessary to ensure that the health measures do not unnecessarily hurt the business world.
“Even if we contain the coronavirus outbreak reasonably well, we may not contain the economic consequences of the prevention strategy,” he said.
He said there is a huge urgency to deal with the economic impact now, as urgent as dealing with the coronavirus containment.
He said it is important to deal with containing the spread of the coronavirus and the impact of measures which are put in place at the same time.
Softening the blow to businesses and consumers
Van den Heever said there are ways to soften the blow to businesses and consumers during this time.
He said the immediate focus should be to take pressure off distressed businesses to preserve employment.
“We do not want people to be laid off just because of a short-term measure equivalent to a month,” he said.
Van den Heever said the government has large funds available through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) which are unused.
He said these surplus funds need to be deployed in the current situation as a way to boost the economy.
He also advised a restructuring of government expenditure on a temporary basis. This can include support through the social grants system.
“A lot of countries have looked at once-off transfers to support low-income households and other distressed groups,” he said.
He said these measures should be identified and deployed within the next week.