Some of the more illogical lockdown laws need a rethink

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Some of the more illogical lockdown laws need a rethink

Why would buying a few packs of cigarettes or having your fridge fixed sabotage efforts to flatten the curve?

Consumer journalist
Cigarette smokers, deprived of their usual fix, have started supporting the illicit trade.
Butt out! Cigarette smokers, deprived of their usual fix, have started supporting the illicit trade.
Image: TimesLIVE

So, this strange, terrifying new life is to continue until the end of the month.

Few people believed lockdown would be over on April 17, but hearing it being made official by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday night still came as a bit of a blow to most of us.

Two more weeks of our lives, as we know them, being kept on hold. 

It’s one thing not being to get out to the restaurant or takeaway – or to the park, the gym, or the beach – but not being able to get out to earn an income has made life a living hell for so many.

The list is long: caterers, sports coaches, restaurant owners, tour operators, conference and event organisers, technicians, “non-essential” goods appliance repairers and many, many more are stuck at home, panicking about how they are going to survive this giant pause.

And as the days go by, the fear and the anger intensifies and spills over into the public discourse. 

Too-vague regulations, a multitude of inconsistencies, and seemingly overly punitive restrictions, in some cases, fuel the fire.

Lone cyclists and joggers and someone sweeping their verge get roughed up by police for not obeying the “stay at home” order, while thousands are forced to travel to work in taxis to ensure that the rest of us continue to have access to essentials such as food, fuel and the internet.

Why would buying a few packs of cigarettes with your groceries sabotage efforts to flatten the curve? 

Why have restaurants been forced to close completely, with a devastating impact on the lives on their staff, while many companies continue to deliver ready-to-eat meals to their customers? 

Why isn’t the sale or at least the repair of domestic appliances, especially fridges, allowed?  Surely that ticks the “essential service” box?

Home-bound people are stuck with broken fridges and washing machines, adding to their lockdown misery, and the industry which would dearly love to help them is legally restricted from doing so.

On March 25, the day before lockdown, Mark Saunders of the SA Domestic Appliance Association sent the department of trade, industry and competition an industry appeal for classification under the government’s list of essential goods and services.

“Given that consumers will now be required to remain at home for a minimum period of 21 days, it’s fair that they should have the appliances they require to sustain their challenging conditions at home over the coming weeks,” he wrote.

“And the repair and servicing of domestic appliances is essential as would be the case with geysers, air conditioners, alarm systems, pool filters, electric gates and other electrically operated systems found in many thousands of homes.

We deem it imperative that technicians be permitted to travel to homes to see to the repair and maintenance of appliances.
Mark Saunders , SA Domestic Appliance Association

“We deem it imperative that technicians be permitted to travel to homes to see to the repair and maintenance of appliances. 

“This would prevent additional hardship being experienced in homes as well as avoiding a backlog of work to be completed after the lockdown is lifted.”

Saunders hasn’t had a response to that appeal, but a paragraph in the president’s Thursday-night address to the nation provided a glimmer of hope

“We will use the coming days to evaluate how we will embark on risk-adjusted measures that can enable a phased recovery of the economy, allowing the return to operation of certain sectors under strictly controlled conditions.”

Please let that include appliance repairers and retailers, because the current situation is creating all manner of hardship and tension.

Many families are in desperate need of the appliances or repair services, specialist appliance retailers are closed while some supermarkets are still selling appliances during lockdown, and while the large appliance-repair operations are abiding by the regulations and refusing to repair broken fridges and washing machines in homes across the land, some small, one-man-band repairers are still responding to callouts.

Question the latter, as I did – without naming the man or his business – and you’re labelled a rules-obsessed snitch who is denying someone the means to put food on his table.

I’d actually called the man because a client who paid him R1,500 to repair her fridge during lockdown alleged the fridge still wasn’t working and he was demanding another R1,600 for a further repair. 

Thanks to lockdown, her usual repair options weren’t available to her. 

So, like those cigarette smokers who, deprived of their usual fix have started supporting the illicit trade, she was forced to risk a Plan B.

I’ve taken up scores of “dodgy appliance repair” cases in the past two decades, to get justice for the consumer, and not once been told to lay off the poor service provider who’s just trying to make a living or been lambasted for pointing out that they were breaking the law.

But lockdown is not normal and norms no longer apply. We’re all victims.

When we can’t get printer ink, call in a handyman to secure our home after being burgled, puff on a ciggie in our own home or get our broken fridge fixed as we witness our expensive food go bad, we challenge the rules and some of us – consumer and service provider – break them out of desperation.

So bring on those “risk-adjusted measures that can enable a phased recovery of the economy, allowing the return to operation of certain sectors”. Fast.

CONTACT WENDY:

E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za

Twitter: @wendyknowler

Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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