CMA general manager Henry Cockcroft says the South African government should be congratulated on its timely intervention in stemming the early spread of COVID-19. The official number of cases at the time of writing (22 April 2020) at a low 3465, with the expectation that government will extend lockdown into May, albeit with a few minor concessions.
“The questions on everyone’s mind is how long lockdown can continue? Will it, in one guise or another, become a permanent feature until a vaccine is found? The government is faced with an unenviable dilemma of weighing the cost of lives saved through lockdown against the lives lost through an inability to put food on the table, poverty and civil unrest,” says Cockcroft.
He adds that some, including Efficient Group chief economist, Dawie Roodt, believe that the poverty and hardship caused by South Africa’s lockdown will lead to significantly more deaths than those caused by the virus.
“We understand that the government’s intervention is a time-buying exercise in which to marshal its resources and lay the groundwork for dealing with the virus when it hits pandemic proportions locally, estimated to be around August/September. If we had unlimited resources at our disposal, lockdown would be extended until a vaccine was found. However, this is a scenario which even the world’s wealthiest countries can’t entertain, let alone a debt-ridden country which was already in recession before the virus struck.
“Extending lockdown may save lives in the short term, but its dire socio-economic consequences are already being felt through hunger, looting and increasing civil unrest; and government phone lines are being overwhelmed with requests for food parcels. We believe this situation will exponentially worsen if lockdown is extended.
“Therefore, the Concrete Manufacturers Association (CMA) joins other construction-related associations and businesses in calling on the government to scrap lockdown as soon as possible. Once lockdown is lifted, and those fortunate enough to still have jobs return to work, the virus could spread in the workplace and a small percentage of those who contract the virus could become ill. But the vast majority will not, and life will continue.
“Partial lifting of lockdown makes little sense. For instance, aggregate suppliers are now allowed to operate at 50% capacity. However, its customer base, namely, the construction industry, is still in lockdown. The World Health Organisation (WHO) maintains that before lockdown is lifted additional capacity in health systems should be in place, to trace, treat and isolate patients; outbreak risks in special settings like nursing homes should be minimised; preventative strategies in schools and workplaces finalised; importation risks managed and minimised, and communities engaged in adjusting to the new norm.
“As soon as these or similar provisions are in place, lockdown should be lifted to its greatest possible extent. Our survival as a sovereign entity rather than an IMF basket case depends on it,” he concludes.