Doctors say level 2 is right move, but appeal for respect of lockdown rules

Gyms need week to prepare for reopening, other industries respond to level 2

16 August 2020 - 13:45 By TimesLIVE

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that SA will move to lockdown level 2 from midnight on Monday is welcomed as a step in the right direction for the country by the SA Medical Association (Sama).

“This is the correct decision by government and signals a major shift in the country’s response to the coronavirus. We are happy with this decision and believe it will go some way to begin addressing some of the economic issues our country currently faces,” says Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of Sama.

The organisation endorsed the president’s call for people to continue wearing masks, washing and sanitising their hands, and practising social distancing.

“It’s extremely important that South Africans understand that we are not rid of this coronavirus, and that the road ahead remains long and uncertain.

“Moving to level 2 is welcomed but people must not think this is the end of the fight against the pandemic. We must all still play our role in curbing the spread of coronavirus, and ensure we are all still safe going forward,” said Coetzee.

The move to alert level 2 will see the reopening of leisure travel across provinces, as well as the unbanning of liquor and cigarettes.

Accommodation establishments

Tourism stakeholders said in a statement on Sunday that there are early indications of demand for leisure travel, pledging the sector is implementing health and safety protocols to safeguard staff and guests.

Tourism operators were among the first and hardest hit of all industries and will likely be the last to be reopened fully.

“The announcement that interprovincial leisure travel will now be allowed will provide a much-needed lifeline for tourism businesses,” the South Africa is Travel Ready grouping said. “Even with the small reopening of intra-provincial domestic leisure travel [two weeks ago], we have already seen that there is pent-up demand for tourism and travel.”

Last week, online accommodation booking system provider NightsBridge confirmed it had recorded some 9,389 bookings across 2,646 properties for the past long weekend, with the Western Cape receiving most of the benefit.

NightsBridge MD Theresa Emerick said, “Although we only received 38% of last year’s travel volume back over the comparable weekend, there was certainly a sharp spike in bookings since the official announcement that intra-provincial leisure travel was allowed. The next steps to the reopening of the sector is interprovincial leisure travel, which many accommodation providers in provinces surrounding Gauteng desperately need for their survival.”

Assessing forward bookings for SA’s high season, NightsBridge reports about a third of bookings (25,630) have been made for December 2020 to February 2021 versus the same point last year which saw 77,175 bookings for December 2019 to February 2020.

The Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) has launched its Travel Safe — Eat Safe Certification Programme incorporating a robust set of tourism protocols that have received the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) stamp of approval.

The stamp will allow customers to recognise businesses in SA which have already adopted world-class health and hygiene protocols for safe travel, indicating the country's readiness as a travel destination for both domestic and international guests.

Fitness centres

Virgin Active has welcomed the announcement that the fitness industry, including gyms, can reopen soon after a prolonged closure — providing they meet certain protocols.

“The company has been informed that each fitness operator will need to submit its Covid-19 plans to government for approval before it can open. This process is expected to take a week to complete,” a spokesperson said.

Virgin Active said it will freeze the membership, at no cost, for a further two months for those members who are not ready to come back to the gym straight away.

Informal traders on cigarettes

The SA Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA) cautiously noted the unbanning of the sale of cigarettes, which have been outlawed since end-March.

“In many cases, the sale of cigarettes accounts for a large percentage of their [informal traders such as spaza shops and hawkers] income, so it is a welcome and necessary move which will have a profound impact on their ability to sustain themselves and their families during this unbelievably difficult health and economic crisis,” said Rosheda Muller, national president of SAITA.

“The ban on cigarette sales was a controversial move that has not seen a lot of support, for very good reasons. Firstly, there is a significant unintended consequence of this, which is to move smokers from legal to illegal cigarette consumption. This puts money in the pockets of criminals instead of legal, hard-working traders. It is well known that illicit cigarette makers do not pay taxes, so besides the terrible loss of income faced by our traders, our government has been losing out on taxes that should go towards rebuilding our nation.

“We recognise the health risks associated with the sale of tobacco products, but we must remember that it is not a banned industry, and that we must allow adults to make their own choices. As traders, we are simply providing access to a legal product, the sale of which allows us to feed our families, educate our children, and sustain jobs.”

Liquor industry

The Beer Association of SA, representing the Craft Brewers Association, Heineken South Africa and SA Breweries, welcomed the reopening of the sale of alcohol at restaurants, bars and taverns.

“Many businesses in the beer industry have still not recovered from the first nine-week ban in place from March 27 to May 31, including 8,000 licensed taverns and 30% of craft breweries that were bankrupted. The second ban, that came into effect on July 13, forced an additional 15% craft breweries and thousands more taverns to shut down permanently. This is a tragedy of epic proportions, especially since 54% of taverns are owned by women supporting their families.

In addition to jobs losses, the bans forced SA Breweries to cancel R2.5bn in capital and infrastructure upgrades this financial year; it is currently reviewing a R2.1bn planned spend for 2021. Heineken South Africa has also halted plans for a R6bn brewery expansion in KwaZulu-Natal, which would have created 400 new jobs. It is critical that we do not ever have a repeat of the situation ...”

The organisation said it is part of discussions at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), working with the government, labour and community on a social compact to address the underlying societal issues linked to alcohol abuse, and how South Africans’ views and behaviour around alcohol consumption and abuse can be changed for the better.

“We are also committed to partnering with government to implement its gender-based violence master plan. Furthermore, we support government’s zero tolerance for drinking and driving campaign, as well as amendments to the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers.”

Kurt Moore, CEO of the SA Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA), said the alcohol industry and business representatives entirely support President Ramaphosa’s call “to put in place the practices and forms of behaviour that we must continue to adopt for some time to come”.

Moore said industry stakeholders had met health minister Zweli Mkhize last week to discuss lifting the ban, as well as aspects related to enhancing the social compact between the industry, government and civil society/community.

“The liquor industry confirmed it is willing to ensure enhanced resources, including funds, people and time, are available to assist the government in dealing with the burden on the public health-care system. It will also help ease the pressure on health-care facilities and to assist with the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE)” said Moore.

Lucky Ntimane, convener of the National Liquor Traders Council, welcomed the decision. “Our network of some 34,000 taverners across the country is ready to get back to business. We will continue to roll out innovations such as the 'click-and-collect' apps to help reduce queues, improve social distancing, and make it safer for consumers to order and collect their purchases.”

Rico Basson, CEO of VinPro, said the industry is committed to ramping up its social awareness programmes and behavioural change interventions.

He proposed a forum with the government and other stakeholders to focus on identifying and prioritising problem areas — based on research and credible current data — to jointly design interventions.

Political reactions

John Steenhuisen, leader of the DA, criticised the extension of the state of disaster for another 30 days, which he said “only serves to place power and control in a few hands and bypasses government’s legislative arm entirely”.

“South Africans won’t be distracted by announcements of lockdown levels. They want to know what the president is doing about this pandemic of ANC corruption. They want to see charges, court dates and sentences.

“ ... Whether they call it level one, two, three or six, it doesn’t matter. It should not be there at all.

“Lifting the ban on alcohol and tobacco sales, as well as opening beaches and parks and permitting interprovincial travel is not something for which government should now be praised or thanked. These restrictions should have been lifted months ago, along with every other regulation that has curbed economic activity during lockdown.

“We are now in the midst of a devastating economic depression, and all that matters now is getting as many South Africans working as we possibly can.”

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi cautioned the country about the drop in the number of new Covid-19 infections that preceded the easing of restrictions to level 2.

The reduction in testing from 50,000 tests daily to less than 12,000 is a cause for concern ... We demand that government increase testing to track the virus, so that those infected can be identified, supported to isolate and receive treatment. The celebratory mood that we have reached our peak may be completely misplaced.”

Commenting on the economic impact of the lockdown, the union said it is fighting for a moratorium on job losses and “expropriation of any company breaking the moratorium and threatening mine or factory closures”.

“Government must recapitalise these and support workers to operate them, and save jobs and the industrial capacity of the country, which the capitalists are laying to waste across the economy.”

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