On 1 June 2020, South Africa moved to level 3 of the measures in terms of the National State of Disaster to curtail the spread of Covid-19. There are a few people suggesting that it’s the end of lockdown. When the President made the announcement, he advised that the details would be made clearer in “the coming days”. At the end of the 45 minute address, there were two – no three – takeaways. For me, anyway:
- the primary purpose of the lockdown had been achieved: a sufficient slowing of the spread of the Corona virus that causes Covid-19 to enable significant preparation for the inevitable and ongoing increase in acute cases.
Every citizen must now take personal responsibility for not catching the virus by following the social distancing and hygiene protocols to stop the spread.
- everyone would go back to work (working from home if it is possible to do so). It will be business as usual: except for leisture tourism and hospitality
- schools will re-open, beginning with the two exit years at year 7 (into high school) and year 12 (into the world of work or post school education and training)
Oh, but wait, there was one more:
I can cook with wine. Again. My smokin’ friends, however, still cannot light up and have a puff.
Alcohol will be on sale on specified days, in specified hours. I’ll come back to this.
A quick look at the numbers
As has always been predicted, the numbers of Covid cases in South Africa is growing exponentially. When I last did a numbers update, the world had 3,2m cases. Now there are nearly 6,5 million. In South Africa, we have gone from a mere five thousand odd five weeks ago, to nearly thirty six thousand.
In Cape Town alone, just a two and a half hour drive from where I live, there are nearly 1,000 cases in hospital and more than 194 people in ICU (Source).
Cause for pause
Prior to lockdown and the preparation for the onslaught, there were a mere 150 ICU beds in Cape Town’s public hospitals.
That metropolitan area, along with another rural municipality in the province, are the identified “hotspots”. In our municipality, the number of cases has gone from 4 to 35 of which 27 are active (i.e. 8 recoveries, source). To date, there is still no case in the village. We know, though, it will come. It’s inevitable.
It was initially predicted that South Africa’s Coved-19 outbreak would reach its peak around September. Cape Town, however, is now expected to reach its peak at the and of this month or the beginning of July. The concern about sufficient number of beds remains.
In case you’re wondering why I’ve not included the number of tests conducted world wide: there are conflicting figures and a well-documented shortage of test kits. In South Africa there’s a ten-day backlog and they’re using a triage system to identify who should be tested. So, what’s the point?
In the “coming” days
In the days following the President’s statement, but prior to the briefing from the various ministers, the President again addressed the nation. This time, he said it was to call for a national day of prayer. In reality, it was to inform the population that in the interests of their spiritual health, from 1 June, they would be free to attend their places of worship. Gatherings may not exceed 50. There must be attendance registers and temperature screening. These registers will collect not just names and addresses but details of next of kin. This information will, of course, be used for contact tracing. That is logical and sensible.
I am, though, left asking myself: where else will this data go and for what else will it be used? When the pandemic is over.
In a country that has a “command council” coordinating efforts to curtail the pandemic, and where abuse of power is all too common: under level 1 lockdown and which I mentioned in a previous post, and continuing under level 2 and when a a parent stepped on to the beach to fetch a child..
I alluded to some of the questions about personal data in this post, and when I linked to this inteview with Edward Snowden. If you didn’t follow the link then, do it this time, and listen to the interview. It’s even more relevant, two to three months later, than it was then.
More burning questions
Places of worship are internationally acknowledged as major contributors to the spread of the virus. If these can function, with congregations of to 50, why not open restaurants and coffee shops?
With the same provisos: social distancing and fewer than 50 patrons? South Africa may have a religious people, but we are a secular state.
What about personal care businesses and tattoo parlours?
All these establishments have, in terms of their training, good business and good sense, to apply good hygiene and sanitary practices. Ergo less risk of spread.
Oh, and on the issue of collecting names and addresses of “attendees”, names and addresses are not collected when one visits the supermarket, hardware store or the bank. Not that I’m suggesting they should be.
Then there was more
When the ministers responsible for the various sectors of the economy eventually briefed the country, a few things remain as clear as mud:
One can exercise at any time of the day. Non-contact sport is playable. But the golf and tennis clubs cannot be open. Inter provincial movement is prohibited, but you can go and visit a game park – as long as you drive yourself. It’s still not clear whether one may visit family or have a few friends (who are family) over for lunch. One minister says “Aye” another says “Nay”.
Then, restaurants, previously only allowed to sell alcohol when it was consumed on the premises, may now sell sealed bottles of their patrons’ favourite tipple to take home. During the same days and times that any other off-consumption outlet may sell alcohol, viz., Monday to Thursday between 09h00 and 17h00.
It precipitated an outburst from me on my personal Facebook page:
Restaurants & pubs selling alcohol for home consumption – these things spring to mind:
They have to charge restuarant prices to make it worth their while. What patron will pay those prices when it’s possible pay much less from bottle stores and from grocery shops?
As they also have to sell alcohol, for delivery and collection, during the specified times, so other than lunch orders, no wine pairings…
And little [village] pubs: do they have the buying power to buy alcohol at discounted rates? More to the point, do they still have the reserves to buy in stock? I am sure there are other things I can’t think of right now…
I have long thought that those in government have less than no idea how business really works, especially small businesses and where people are self-employed and/or freelance.
People who get monthly salaries from our taxes have no clue what it takes to actually make money, i.e. generate a product or service that customers buy and which pays not just the business’s bills, but people’s wages and salaries. Money doesn’t appear in our bank accounts by magic each month.
The rant precipitated a response from longtime friend and former partner in one of the big (and credible) international accounting firms:
I ran a corporate finance boutique in the late 90s and early 2000s. I learnt then that the guys in government have no clue what cash flow for a business means. This is (sic) becomes quite acute when you have a contract with them. Scope variations, late payments, and other horrors were the order of the day.
Every month-end, however, the same government officials were happy to receive their salaries with compliments from the tax payer.
The guys making decisions over the citizenry have no clue as to how reality is on the ground.
From my old day job: this scenario that was a reality with virtually every contract awarded to either my business or to associates’.
We all get that the world economy is getting sicker, and in this country, the situation is dire. Since I started writing, there has been a High Court judgement declaring the regulations pertaining to levels 3 and 4, unconstitutional. While the country’s top constitutional expert believes the judgement is flawed, the principle remains: this whole “thing” hasn’t been thought through. There seems to be a profound inability to make connections, think laterally, let alone rationally. Especially in a country where the unemployment rate sits at nearly 30% and of that number, nearly 60% are unemployed youth (Source).
Forty odd years ago, when I started taking Geography seriously, I learned that primary industries, and specifically, mining and agriculture were the greatest contributors to the country’s economy. Now, those two, are second only to services which contribute just on 24% of the country’s GDP (Source). The lockdown has seen the mines closed and now slowly reopening with all the challenges of this rampant disease. Other than “essential” retail, the only services that continued were
financial banking services.
Effectively, the economy was shut down for two months.
What constituted essential retail was the source of endless discussion: under level 1, we could only buy food. It was a fight to “release” sanitary items other than toilet paper on to the shelves. Only after significant pressure was one able to buy baby clothing and infant supplies. Then only for newborns and to a particular age. It seems that the powers that be understand that babies’ arrival won’t wait for lockdown to be lifted, but that children will just stop growing and start again when the lockdown is lifted. Under level 2, only certain specified (I kid you not) items of clothing could be bought.
Covid relief – is it?
Oh, the banks have given us a bond holiday. But they’re not going to lose: the debt will just be re-scheduled and re-calibrated and it’ll cost us the same…. Their only loss: less interest because the central bank reduced the interest rate. Banks have not dropped their lending rates, have they?
The government has similarly made relief packages available for small businesses with turnover below ZAR 300 million. Ahem… However, of those that qualify, and which have applied, nearly 70% have been unsuccessful. Entities that do not qualify are sole proprietorships. Given high barriers to entry, and the cost of maintaining a business entity, the sole proprietorship is the simplist and cheapest entity to establish. Within my own circle, I know of individuals and entities, alike, that have simply not tried to seek relief: we know from past experience, the bureaucracy and hoops through which they must jump just to apply. Here’s a specific example: a friend established a pre-school nine years ago. She has put her heart and soul into it, and until Covid-19, it was very successful. She was planning a celebration of ten years early in 2021. Because of the lockdown, she’s considering closing it. Then, last week, there was a glimmer of hope for some compensation for work done – in line with the requirements of the relevant government department.
But no, all hopes were dashed because the type of entity in terms of which she operates, is not deemed appropriate. Early childhood centres may still not operate. Yet parents must return to work. Where’s the sensibility in that?
Speaking of sensibility, there is at least one political party, claiming to be economic freedom fighters that wants the hard lockdown to continue. I am not making this up.
Back to my Facebook rant and the subsequent comment which corroborated what I was trying to say: that, by and large, politicians and government have no real concept of the mechanics of running a business. Did they really think through the implications of permitting restaurants and takeaways selling booze for home consumption? Do they really think that this will rescue micro businesses that have not had any turnover (let alone income or, heaven above, made a profit), for two months?
Lockdown or lock up?
So, while for some people, things are returning to normal: they go to work every day, and come home to an evening tipple. However, for some in the hospitality and tourism sectors, the lockdown has ended. I wonder how many face the prospect, like my friend, of locking up shop, for good?
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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