Fourteen days into the government-mandated 21-day lockdown to curb the spread of the deadly Coronavirus and the millions of South Africans cooped up in their homes are starting to bristle against the law. Images and videos of citizens flouting lockdown rules by walking their dogs or travelling unnecessarily have been circulating on social media. Seemingly unnecessary privations, like alcohol and nicotine – both industries whose ban is costing the state hundreds of millions of rands each day, as well as thousands of jobs, and creating a massive black market – are fraying tempers and evoking widespread resentment.
Ordinary citizens aren’t the only ones anxious to find out if the President will extend the lockdown. Businesses which are haemorrhaging money are also waiting to hear what the future holds.
During a visit to a Rand Water plant earlier this week, Ramaphosa didn’t deny that there might be a need to extend the lockdown.
“We’re still doing an assessment on the effectiveness of the lockdown. In terms of compliance, we’re are finding that many of our people are abiding by the lockdown and its regulations. But there are pockets here and there of people still getting on with their lives as though there’s no Coronavirus,” he said.
Lack of money isn’t the only thing plaguing business owners. “I’d say the biggest impact has been psychological. People have become incredibly irrational in this time. Some have moved to a state of helplessness/hopelessness. Of course, income for many businesses has dried up completely or partially. But some have taken full advantage and are seeing huge opportunity right now,” explains Allon Raiz, founder of business incubator Raizcorp.
Governments around the world are trying to figure out how to curb the spread of COVID-19 without entirely decimating their economies. As the virus swept across the globe, we saw countries institute lockdown measures of varying severity. It took the Chinese government more than three months to loosen the hard lockdown measures put in place in Wuhan, where the virus is thought to have originated.
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“Wuhan began allowing people to leave on Wednesday for the first time since the central Chinese city was sealed off 76 days ago to contain the coronavirus that first emerged there late last year,” reported Al Jazeera.
Eleven million Chinese citizens were forced into a hard lockdown on 23 January as their government became alarmed at the rate of infections.
“The decision to lift the ban – albeit with travellers required to meet certain conditions – came despite fears of a second wave of infection if restrictions were eased too soon,” Al Jazeera reported.
The Chinese economy was devastated by the virus. Last month Reuters reported that Goldman Sachs expected China’s economy to shrink by 9% in the first quarter.
For a country like SA, which actually entered an economic recession at the end of the fourth quarter of last year, an extended lockdown could mean things will be tough for a long time to come.
“I believe there’ll be a lot more pain coming through the system over the next two years,” says Raiz. However, he adds that it needn’t all be doom and gloom. This period also presents big opportunities which could be game-changers.
“If government institutes the right policies and removes much of the red tape, South African manufacturing could be re-ignited with a view to exports, bringing in much-needed dollars and pounds,” says Raiz.
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There are no easy answers; the entire world’s living through an unprecedented crisis. No-one knows what the best solution is, as each country faces its own unique circumstances and challenges. It will be up to Ramaphosa and his team to make the difficult decision on how to keep the country’s citizens safe from the deadly virus without crippling the economy.
“There’s no upside in being defensive and afraid right now. Rather use that energy to look for the many opportunities that will begin to arise. Keep your eyes focused on those, not on infection and death rates,” advises Raiz.
Additional Reporting: Al Jazeera News Network