Our fears as 2020 drew to a close of a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases as South Africans took their festive break, traditionally one that involves hours of travel across our various provinces, have been realised.
We’ve seen the reports of a stretched public and private health care sector and avoiding their collapse is at this point is our most grave concern.
The impact on a long-struggling SA economy is but an unavoidable consequence, and as business we understand the difficult trade-offs that have to be made while we focus on reducing the strain on the health sector. What will be essential as both the state and private sector focus on rolling out the vaccination programme, particularly for the most vulnerable, is increased co-operation to ensure much of the economy remains open.
The focus at the moment needs to be on both safeguarding our vulnerable health sector, with public and private hospitals stretched to capacity across the country, and ensuring the economy continues to recover from the hard shock that came with the initial hard lockdown in March last year.
The second wave is setting back our recovery, especially as the vaccine programme is still in its embryonic stage. Level three restrictions have slowed the momentum in the first quarter, something I’m sure the Reserve Bank will spell out in its first meeting of the year later this month.
What we have to consider is that our second wave may be followed by a third wave in winter which could possibly be more complicated if there is a flu season, which there wasn’t last year, and because people tend to be indoors more, in proximity.
These factors cast doubt on the World Bank’s forecast of 3.3% growth for the country this year in the context of global economic growth of 4%.
There’s much work ahead for all social partners this year to ensure the integrity of our health systems and co-ordinating the rollout of a vaccination programme, while ensuring an economic recovery is sustained. The sourcing of vaccines for health-care workers as announced by health minister Zweli Mkhize last week is welcome and so is the commitment from medical aid operators to fund vaccines for both members and non-members.
To ensure the economy is not derailed, the government is going to have to take the various industries into its confidence with its lockdown measures ahead of time to avoid courtroom battles that will only serve to distract from the job at hand. This is an unprecedented crisis for all of us. There’s simply no blueprint of how we manage this year and those to come, leaving no alternative but further co-operation.
There’s a real possibility of increased restrictions in the economy if Covid-19 case numbers continue on their trajectory. If they are introduced, we urge that they are done proportionally with evidence presented for the type and scope of restrictions. The draconian measures seen last year aren’t necessary.
As President Cyril Ramaphosa noted in his January 8 statement marking the 109th birthday of the governing party: “Economic recovery and reconstruction are as important as protecting the health of our nation. The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented levels of economic contraction and job losses.”
Possibly the most important task this year for government, business, unions and civic organisations is to ensure the speedy introduction of a vaccination programme, boosting confidence in SA. While doing so, we also need to ensure we nurture our economic recovery.
This column was written by Busi Mavuso and was first published in Business Day.
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