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According to a report by TimesLive on Wednesday morning, a forum made up of directors-general of national departments (FOSAD), would be recommending a move to Level 2 to the national coronavirus command council (NCCC)…

This was in order to save jobs and boost the crumbling South African economy. Many speculated that this could mean the lifting of the booze and tobacco bans. Submissions to the NCCC would be made by FOSAD, and would need to be passed by the council before implementing Level 2.

According to BusinessTech, “the five month ban on tobacco has cost the country more than R4.5 billion in lost excise tax revenue, put 300,000 jobs at risk, and forced smokers to buy unregulated products from the underground market at exorbitant prices.”

On Wednesday, eNCA reported that trade union, COSATU had joined in calls to lift the ban on alcohol sales. The union said it still recommended strict regulations to ensure responsible drinking but called for the full ban to be lifted.

 

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Infections are slowing

On Tuesday evening, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize noted that the rate of recovery from Covid-19 in South Africa had reached 75%, and there was a downward trend in confirmed cases.

DA demands an end to lockdown

On Wednesday afternoon, leader of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen called for President Ramaphosa to end hard lockdown immediately.

“The tourism industry, schools, and borders need to be fully opened, the curfew lifted, and the state of disaster ended,” said Steenhuisen.

“South Africa’s economy was already in crisis before the virus arrived. Now national insolvency is all but guaranteed, while our economy lies in ruins and millions of people will suffer unnecessarily for years to come. Enough is enough. Let’s get back to work and start rebuilding.”

Massive job losses in alcohol industry

“The South African wine industry, including wine tourism, is in a state of disaster. Urgent intervention is needed or else one of the oldest agricultural industries in the country will not survive,” noted Rico Basson, MD of the wine industry body, Vinpro in a media release on Wednesday.

The wine industry has geared itself to reopen domestic trade and distribution with all necessary health and safety regulations in place, while focusing on changing behaviour with regard to responsible production, promotion, trade and consumption.

“We therefore support the Western Cape government’s call for the safe reopening of all businesses and the domestic sale of alcohol, along with targeted interventions.”

“The initial nine-week ban on local sales, and five-week ban on exports will result in more than 80 wineries and 350 wine grape producers going out of business, with a potential loss of more than 21 000 jobs across the value-chain over the next 18 months which may escalate significantly following the second ban.”

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What does Level 2 require?

Last week, the government published an updated directive outlining the criteria for the determination of alert levels.

According to the directive:

  • ‘Alert Level 1’ indicates a low Covid -19 spread with a high health system readiness
  • ‘Alert Level 2’ indicates a moderate Covid -19 spread with a high health system readiness
  • ‘Alert Level 3’ indicates a moderate Covid -19 spread with a moderate health system readiness
  • ‘Alert Level 4’ indicates a moderate to a high Covid -19 spread with a low to moderate health system readiness
  • ‘Alert Level 5’ indicates a high Covid -19 spread with a low health system readiness

Who decides?

The Ministerial Advisory Committee must advise the Minister of Health regarding which Alert Level should be declared nationally, provincially, in a metropolitan area, or a district. They must take into account the epidemiological trends of Covid -19 infections, the health system capacity in a specified area to respond to the disease burden; and any other factor that would influence the level of infection, hospitalisation and mortality.

  • Epidemiological trends include: a consideration of the trends in the number of tests done, number of persons screened, number of positive cases, number of recoveries and the demographic profile of the positive cases.
  • Health system capacity includes: a consideration of the number of facilities available to support Covid -19, bed -occupancy levels for the various levels of care, human resource capacity, equipment and related resources.
Level 2 on the cards?
(Image source: canva creation)

What does Level 2 look like?

According to the government’s information on the Covid-19 portal, Level 2 would require “All COVID-19 health and safety protocols to be followed at all times, including observance of guidelines for social distancing, sanitation and hygiene, and use of appropriate personal protective equipment, like cloth face masks, as determined by the National Department of Health.”

Level 2 also allows for:

  • All manufacturing to be opened up towards 100% employment
  • Building to resume on private residential projects
  • All retail permitted subject to directions
  • All real estate activities permitted
  • Business travel permitted (but still no conference getaways)
  • Interprovincial travel permitted

Alcohol and tobacco are not, however, explicitly mentioned in the information on the portal. South Africans will have to wait for the President’s address to celebrate… or not.