Government gets down to business as lockdown looms

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Government gets down to business as lockdown looms

Cabinet ministers reveal drastic measures to cushion the blow against banks, tourism and agriculture

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Let the lockdown begin!
Image: Ziyaad Douglas/Gallo Images

A tourism relief fund, a R1.2bn package towards food production and another R3bn for industrial funding – these are some of the measures announced by the government on Tuesday to mitigate the economic impact of the 21-day lockdown.

The drastic measures will see businesses that are not deemed essential shutting their doors, a move expected to have a crippling effect on the economy.

Land and rural development minister Thoko Didiza announced her department had set aside a package of R1.2bn to address the effects of the coronavirus and ensure sustainable food production after the pandemic.

An additional R100m will be availed to the Land Bank to help farmers in distress, said the minister.

Didiza was confident that the agriculture and food supply sector was an essential service that would remain operational.

“Agricultural production in all its forms will remain uncompromised. This includes all services, including the provision of veterinary and advisory services. Live auctions of livestock and sale of other agricultural commodities will continue but under the strict conditions prescribed by the president.

“Exports and imports of critical agriculture commodities and the logistical measures will continue during this lockdown period to ensure global and national food security,” she said.

Agricultural production in all its forms will remain uncompromised.

Fake news

Minister of small business development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni at the same briefing addressed claims on social media that the government would only help companies that are at least 51% black-owned.

Ntshavheni said the document that was spread on social media was “fake news”.

“Let me address these fake news,” she said, before explaining that companies that qualified for help needed to be 100% SA-owned and needed to have 70% SA workers. There was no requirement for black ownership. However, priority will be given to companies that benefit women, young people and people with disabilities.

Tourism

Another industry that will doubtlessly be negatively affected is tourism, since the new measures include travel bans and events cancellations.

The department of tourism has made an additional R200m available to assist small, micro and medium enterprises in the tourism and hospitality sector that are under particular stress due to the new travel restrictions.

“This is amongst the interventions we believe will help to cushion our society from these economic difficulties,” said tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

“We are committed to putting people and their wellbeing first, ahead of profits as part of a response to Covid-19. At the same time, we are committed to see the sector being able to pick up the pieces post the Covid-19, thus our role will be to respond and support the industry during this period,” she added.

The fund will be administered to benefit SMMEs in all nine provinces and various tourism subsectors. Kubayi-Ngubani said the nature of SMMEs was such that the dearth of business activities for more than a month could spell the end for such enterprises.

She said there would be a necessary degree of bias towards rural areas, townships, women, young people and people with disabilities.

We are committed to putting people and their well-being first, ahead of profits as part of a response to Covid-19.

Concerning large businesses, the government has looked at relief measures for those registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

Banks

On the exemptions for banks that were announced on Friday, trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said these were meant to help banks coordinate measures that can be used to support businesses and ordinary account holders.

The exemptions will allow banks to work together to devise programmes and relief measures to help small businesses, consumers and companies in distress through the financial and economic challenges.

“In particular the exemptions will enable the banks to coordinate on matters like payment holidays and debt relief for businesses and individual citizens subject to financial stress, to put limitations on asset repossessions of business and individual citizens, and to coordinate on the extension of credit lines to individual and businesses subject to financial stress,” he said.

The regulations, the minister said, would allow banks to work together to ensure the continuing functioning of the payment system as well as sharing information and resources to ensure continued availability of banknotes at ATMs, branches and businesses.

“We have basically done extraordinary things to enable the banking system to remain strong and intact so that South Africans can access banks in the next three weeks,” he said.

The government published a special government gazette on Tuesday, enabling shopping mall owners and tenants to consider “coordinating their actions” and reach agreements to address matters such as payment holidays or rental discounts to tenants.

Patel said the regulations would place limitations on evictions to ensure shops and others whose income will be falling sharply during the lockdown have the necessary flexibility and space to survive with as few adjustments as possible.

Ten key questions about life under the impending lockdown

1. Must I test for coronavirus if I am coughing and have a sore throat?

If you have the common symptoms of Covid-19 (sore throat, coughing, fever and shortness of breath) and if you have had a potentially high-risk exposure (for example, an international flight), then yes, you must have a coronavirus test.

But if you have no symptoms, you do not yet need to test. The testing criteria could change by next week.

2. What is the coronavirus test like?

The test involves a swab down the back of your throat and your nose, and it is uncomfortable. A doctor advises people to try not to move their heads during the test, to limit the watering of their eyes with the nasopharyngeal swab and a possible slight gag with the throat swab.

3. Can I visit elderly relatives who need help during lockdown?

No visiting will be allowed under lockdown, but old-age homes will get the food and support they need, along with children’s homes and youth homes, the social cluster promised on Tuesday. Social workers will be listed under essential services, as will others working in social services.

4. What happens if I break the rules during lockdown – for example, driving on the freeway without a valid reason?

You could be punished, with a fine or up to one month in prison.

5. Can I drink alcohol during the lockdown?

Drinking alcohol is discouraged because it lowers the immune system. Bottle stores and shebeens will be closed during lockdown.

6. When must I wear a mask?

You need to wear a mask only if (a) you are a healthcare worker or you work on the front line, where you may be at high risk of infection, or (b) you have the coronavirus, to stop spreading infection to others. If needed, cloth or material masks are better than no barrier. Do not buy or wear masks if you do not need them – because other people do!

7. When must I wear gloves?

Gloves are needed only in clinical health settings, by healthcare workers. Otherwise you get a false sense of security and typically don’t wash hands in gloves as much as bare hands. If you are wearing gloves, wash or sanitise your hands with gloves on them.

The following questions can only be answered on Wednesday by the security cluster briefing, but the examples of other countries may give an indication of what’s coming.

8. How do I prove to police or army that I have a valid reason to be out during lockdown?

What’s known is that buying groceries and petrol, getting social grants, banking and seeking medical care are allowed during lockdown – one person at a time, keeping the required distance.

The security cluster is expected to give details on what (if any) documents will be proof of a valid reason to be on the road or outside.

In France, people are allowed to carry a sworn statement (downloaded from a government ministry) about their “essential reasons” for leaving home. Tradespeople such as electricians and plumbers are allowed to do house calls to fix urgent problems such as leaks.

9. Can I drive my minor child to be with his mother or father if we share joint custody?

If SA follows the guidelines of countries such as France and Spain, shared parenting may be possible with the appropriate documents.

10. Can I walk my dog in a remote or secluded spot, or go for a solo hike, walk or run?

Everybody must stay indoors, unless they work in essential services. Outdoor exercise is not considered an essential activity, so try indoor options instead, such as skipping, weights, yoga and dancing.

Until the security cluster briefing, there are no details on dog-walking, but some countries, such as France, have allowed people to walk alone with their dogs in their immediate neighbourhoods.

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