The third wave has had a more gradual downward trajectory than the first two but is clearly waning. Recent days have seen under 10,000 new cases reported compared with more than 20,000 at the peak in early July. Combine that with the success of the vaccine programme, which is now consistently delivering over 200,000 jabs a day and over 13m to date, and it is clear we are moving into a better stage of the pandemic – though risks remain.
It is now time to allow more of the economy to get back to work. We have been operating under “adjusted alert level 3” since July. The curfew, restrictions on alcohol sales, capacity of restaurants, conferences, sporting events and other gatherings are impeding important parts of our economy. Borders should be fully reopened. With our economy still struggling to recover, made shockingly clear by the record unemployment figures, we need to free up the economy to act.
Alert level 2 is the next logical phase to move to. This will require face masks to continue to be worn and indoor gatherings will be limited in number to enable physical distancing. The previous level 2 included a curfew from 11h00 to 23h00 and required the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres by 22h00. I submit that these curfews are unnecessary now. What is important is physical distancing, not the particular times that people are allowed to be out of their homes. We need an adjusted level 2.
The economy is one obvious reason we should remove these restrictions. But with Friday’s decision by the Constitutional Court that local government elections must go ahead by 2 November, political parties are going to need every minute of the day to run election campaigns, as will the Independent Electoral Commission to run voter registration and get its logistics ready.
I was pleased to hear health minister Joe Phaahla saying last week that the new variant C.1.2 is not considered to be a threat at this stage. Of course, new variants are always a risk. The waves of infections that have characterised this pandemic will continue. We could face a fourth wave in November, and the hope must be that we are sufficiently far advanced with the vaccine programme to limit the effect this may have. The minister also suggested that the path may be open to reducing lockdown restrictions, saying that his department will give the president a report next week on the progress of the virus. KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape are particular hotspots the minister and his department are concerned about.
I hope the minister’s team will conclude that we are winning the battle on the health front. The other fronts need attention. We are getting it right on the law and order front, including corruption. We must ensure that our security apparatus continue their important work in maintaining law and order, particularly as political tensions rise in the run-up to local government elections. The corruption fight took a step forward with the Special Investigating Unit’s recommendation for criminal charges against former health minister Zweli Mkhize. We want to see many such cases of accountability and the National Prosecuting Authority taking up the reins to swiftly conclude prosecutions. But I feel we are on the right path.
The most important front in our battle now is the economy. The third quarter will look bad because of the unrest that blighted July. The many businesses that were affected will take some time to recover. Loosened lockdown restrictions will help limit the damage, but we now need to make sure we have a bumper fourth quarter. We need our retail, leisure and entertainment industries to be free to have an excellent festive season. We need to maintain momentum on structural reforms to continue building business confidence. We can now see a clear path to energy security thanks to important changes in regulations on energy generation. There is also much effort going into getting auctions of digital spectrum back on track so as to improve broadband access across the country. Visas, infrastructure policy and other important areas are being worked on. A shift in lockdown restrictions is the important impetus we need to add to these.
The current Level 3 runs to 15 October – that is too long to wait. A shift to level 2 should happen sooner. The presidency has signalled it is considering a shift in level. It needs to do so as soon as possible. Another “family meeting” with the president is called for so we can get back to work in all areas of the economy.
This column is by Busi Mavuso and was first published in fin24.
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