Durban – KWAZULU-NATAL business leaders and restaurant owners have lambasted even the remote notion of a second hard lockdown for the country, saying it would be “catastrophic” for the economy.
This comes as Premier Sihle Zikalala’s spokesperson Lennox Mabasa confirmed on Thursday the government did not want another hard lockdown for the province despite the premier’s warning to citizens to change their behaviour or face this as a consequence at the weekend.
Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Palesa Phili said the chamber was concerned that data had indicated the country had not managed to entirely avoid a second wave of Covid-19 infections, but a return to a hard lockdown would devastate businesses.
“Some have even voiced concerns that the rise in cases could lead to another hard lockdown, especially if citizens are not vigilant and if people and businesses do not adhere to Covid-19 protocols. We do not believe that a return to the hard lockdown scenario could even be a consideration, given the self-evident devastation that the first one wreaked on the economy, bringing many businesses to a complete halt and seeing huge revenue losses,” Phili said.
She said some of the hardest hit sectors were tourism, construction and SMMEs.
“There is no doubt that the hard lockdown spared our country massive loss of life. However, that is not an intervention the South African economy can afford again. Another hard lockdown will translate into deeper losses for the economy and make the road to recovery for businesses practically impossible,” Phili said.
“It is critical that we all work to balance the preservation of lives and livelihoods, and while we do not have the ultimate solution, as the Durban Chamber, we believe that continued co-operation between the public and private sectors is key to regaining control of the infection numbers.”
Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business chief executive Melanie Veness said the tourism sector was still struggling to recover from the first lockdown, although some local export firms – such as those selling metals to the US – were doing “exceptionally well”.
“Retail volumes have not picked up to what they were before lockdown, and manufacturers and restaurants are still struggling. A second hard lockdown will be catastrophic for the economy. There is no chance businesses could survive a second lockdown. The focus should rather be on enforcing compliance with the regulations. There should be some kind of implementation of a penalty such as a fine for non compliance, you can’t simply shut down businesses,” Veness said.
Restaurant Association of South Africa chief executive Wendy Alberts said the industry could not even think about the prospect of a second hard lockdown, in which case the sector would demand financial compensation from the government. She said about 30% of restaurants had closed during lockdown according to an industry survey, but government needed to conduct research to assess the full impact of closures and job losses.
“We are trading business as usual and trying desperately to get the industry back on its feet. If there is going to be any threat on our businesses, we are going to look to the government for financial compensation,” she said.
“Patrons are definitely supporting the restaurant industry. A lot of restaurants are busy but consumer spend is down and they are either eating or drinking, and not having full dining experience. We are grateful to consumers,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mabaso said the government had no plans for any localised lockdown in the province. However, he said the government was concerned about infections and “the care-free attitude and behaviour” of citizens and some businesses that were not encouraging patrons to follow the protocols of hand sanitising, wearing a mask and physical distancing.
“Government is occupied with getting the economy to recover and create more jobs. Rising infections are a threat and hence the government is sounding an alarm bell that no one should lower their guard and be complacent.
“There are no plans for an individualised lockdown, as all will be guided by the National Coronavirus Command Council, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The province will vigorously enforce compliance and act against any violations of lockdown regulations,” Mabaso said.
“Covid-19 has not relaxed it is still around, only the regulations have been relaxed. The government wants economic recovery and behavioural changes of citizens, no hard lockdown,” he said.