Shop and awe: mall owners thrash out lockdown plan

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Shop and awe: mall owners thrash out lockdown plan

The logistics and impact of a national lockdown have been the focus of talks with state, says umbrella body

Journalist
The meeting looked at various low-, medium- and high-risk scenarios and what needs to be done when the risk levels rise.
Vigilant The meeting looked at various low-, medium- and high-risk scenarios and what needs to be done when the risk levels rise.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

SA shopping mall property owners are in frantic discussions with provincial and national governments in preparation for a feared national coronavirus lockdown.

The discussions, which were confirmed by property developers, come as the health officials brace for an explosion in the country’s Covid-19 infection rates.

The SA Property Owners’ Association (SAPOA), whose members own 90% of the country’s shopping malls, told Times Select discussions had recently been held with public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille about logistics and the impact in the event of a national lockdown.

The discussions follow urgent meetings late last week between retailers, property developers and the Western Cape government to discuss how to continue providing essential services to residents during the pandemic.

Among measures considered was closing all shops in malls except grocery stores and pharmacies.

SAPOA chief executive Neil Gopal said he had held talks with De Lille, “as she is responsible overall for the property industry with respect to the Disaster Management Act”.

He said the discussions were about distinguishing between essential and non-essential services and impacts.

“We don’t believe a total lockdown is imminent as people still require food and water [and] they need to visit clinics. To this end we have drafted a document highlighting what are essential versus non-essential services. We have passed this on to De Lille.”

It is more than just grocery stores and pharmacies that provide essential services. We need to see how we can keep all essential services operating.
Growthpoint Properties chief executive Estienne de Klerk

He said he was in constant contact with De Lille and the presidency about a lockdown to keep their members and the public informed.

“In the event that there is a lockdown, it will be done in a phased approach.”

He said 90% of SA’s shopping centres were owned by the association’s members.

Gopal said they were working closely with Business Unity SA and the Banking Association of SA.

Growthpoint Properties chief executive Estienne de Klerk, who is also chairperson of the SA Real Estate and Investment Trust Association, said provincial officials were looking for proposals from property owners on how industry could continue to provide essential services to communities.

He said they had already reached out to the national government to see how they could collectively work together in fighting Covid-19.

“It is more than just grocery stores and pharmacies that provide essential services. We need to see how we can keep all essential services operating.”

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said the meeting was part of a larger strategy to deal with Covid-19.

“If we go into lockdown there still needs to be services so people can eat. The meeting looked at various low-, medium- and high-risk scenarios and what needs to be done when the risk levels rise. The discussions were around mitigating risks while still ensuring essential services are provided.”

Western Cape economic development department head Solly Fourie said the meeting was called to ensure retailers and mall owners were equipped to deal with any chaos.

“It was for us to hear where the key risks lie and what provisions are being made so trade in essential services can continue.

“At this point we don’t know when or if a lockdown will be implemented, but we have to prepare for one. Those at the meeting sketched out various scenarios including those with both moderate and draconian lockdown measures.”

He said it emerged from the meeting that there were sufficient supply-chain measures in place to ensure essential services, such as the provision of food, could continue.

UKZN School of Nursing and Public Health dean, Prof Mosa Moshabela, said while government had been prepared for people arriving with Covid-19, and diagnosing and isolating them, South Africans had not been properly prepared.

Now, the only way to flatline the country’s infection curve was to ensure stringent containment instructions were obeyed.

“If everyone understands that we can break the spread.”

Moshabela said there were four levels of response in dealing with outbreaks.

“We are currently on the cusp of level four, which is widespread transmission. The moment you go into level four you enter a state of emergency which involves complete lockdown and military mobilisation.

“Key to stopping Covid-19 spreading will be controlling it within urban areas and keeping it away from rural areas, where people have little access to medical and sanitation services.”