WESTERN CAPE NEWS - In a media statement earlier today, the Western Cape government announced it's position on the safe opening of all businesses and the domestic sale of alcohol together with smart interventions.
According to the statement:
Yesterday, the Cabinet of the Western Cape Government met during a Bosberaad to discuss the second, equally serious pandemic of unemployment spreading across our province.
During this special meeting of Ministers and Provincial Heads of Department, the cabinet made it clear that we need to fight this second pandemic with equal resolve if we are going to save lives and prevent a catastrophic humanitarian disaster.
The Western Cape’s health platform has capacity to respond to Covid-19
The Western Cape Government didn’t waste a day of the Hard Lockdown to prepare its healthcare systems for the peak of infections. We have taken our response seriously, ensuring that we have additional field hospitals up-and-running in time for our peak, adequate stock of PPE and other medical supplies such as oxygen, and we have done this transparently, accounting for every cent spent.
As a Government, we have been following an evidence-based, data-led approach to our health response, and we have used worst-case scenario planning to ensure that we always have adequate provisions.
While our healthcare system has been under pressure throughout this time, we have always had capacity to provide healthcare to our residents.
Our latest data indicates that we have passed our ‘peak’ and that our metro hospitals are 69% full, down from 71% the week before (all patients). We can also reveal:
- The Hospital of Hope, which has a capacity of over 800 beds, has 91 patients admitted;
- The Brackengate Field Hospital which has a capacity of over 330 beds, has 47 patients admitted;
- The Thusong Centre, which has a capacity of 60 beds, has 20 patients admitted.
We manage a well-run, integrated health platform and have the ability to provide support to all regions across the province. We are also adding additional capacity in rural areas, with beds at Sonstraal Hospital and in municipalities such as George.
In fact, the Western Cape Government has now reached a point where we have to carefully consider whether all our field hospitals need to stay open, given these statistics and the scenario provisioning projections.
The economic disaster is gaining momentum, and thousands of jobs are being lost
While we are seeing an easing on our health platform, the second unemployment pandemic is gaining momentum in our province.
Businesses, that employ tens of thousands of people, are buckling under continued restrictions on economic activity, low confidence, and reduced demand.
It is estimated that we will lose 10.2% in Gross Value Add, R720 million in revenue, and a staggering 167 000 jobs.
That is nearly two hundred thousand people – many in vulnerable communities - who will no longer have an income to put food on the table. And their dependents and children will suffer too.
This should give every decision maker in this country sleepless nights.
For many people in our province and country, a job is the difference between putting food on the table and starving. This is not an exaggeration, but a reality in our country.
International organisation Oxfam has identified South Africa as an emerging hunger hotspot, saying many of the country’s poor would be “tipped over the edge” by the inability to earn or job losses as a result of the pandemic.
This corroborated by what we are seeing in our communities in the Western Cape.
Higher levels of unemployment will impact food security, the nutrition of adults and children, violent crime, and will cost lives now and in the future too.
That is why we have maintained that we should not view our response to Covid-19 as a zero-sum game. We can ready our healthcare systems to respond and provide care, and we can open our economy safely at the same time.
The Western Cape Government Cabinet position on the safe opening of all businesses
The Cabinet of the Western Cape considered these factors and agreed that we need to prevent as many job losses as possible. The only way to do this is to allow all business to open safely.
The Cabinet accordingly adopted the following position:
For as long as the Western Cape can assure access to health facilities for all Covid-19 patients, all businesses should be allowed to open safely, following clear health guidelines designed to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Our Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) and Department of Health have worked on detailed health and safety guidelines for businesses so that there is clarity on what is expected of them in our fight against Covid-19.
We have responded to 3 972 direct inquiries for assistance from businesses in the Western Cape and have begun the process of rolling out 11 000 “Covid-19 Business Safety Kits” in the province to ensure that businesses are properly supported in this regard.
We have not stopped there. We have also created a platform where employees can report businesses where these health and safety guidelines are not being followed. To date we have resolved 1122 complaints relating to workplace safety.
Given our capacity to respond to Covid-19, the fact that we have passed our peak, and that we have put measures in place to support businesses so that they can re-open safely, there remains no rational reason to keep businesses closed.
If they can open safely, let them.
The Western Cape Government Cabinet position on the domestic sale of alcohol
Our Cabinet and Provincial Heads of Department also considered the continued suspension of alcohol sales in South Africa.
We fully agree that alcohol related harms are a major problem in our province and country.
Our provincial data points to this. When the domestic sale of alcohol was suspended during the Lockdown, and then again recently, the number of trauma cases dropped immediately.
But we cannot view this in isolation of the other consequences of a continued ‘ban’ on the sale of alcohol is causing.
South Africa is one of the top wine producing countries of the world, and that sector is predominantly located in our province. We are the wine and agri-processing capital of South Africa, with the sector supporting thousands of livelihoods across a value chain.
Wine industry body Vinpro estimates that the initial nine-week ban on local sales, and five-week ban on exports will result in 18 000 jobs lost, and 80 wineries and 350 grape producers closing their businesses over the next year. Stats SA food and beverage data for April and May shows a decline in revenue for his sector of 94% and 87% respectively from 2019 revenues.
As our Provincial Minister of Agriculture, Dr Ivan Meyer expressed in a letter to Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza:
- Wine is the third biggest export product of the Western Cape economy and contributes 6.5% of the value of exports from the province. But only 51,0% (2018) of the crop was exported. The sector therefore relies heavily on the domestic market and cannot survive on exports alone.
- Of the 2873 producers of wine grapes in South Africa, 40% produce less than 100 tons, and further 36% less than 500 tons per annum. The wine industry is dominated by smaller businesses.
The impact on this temporary ban is not just felt in our agricultural and farming communities, but also in our tourism and hospitality sector. Indeed, we are also the tourism and hospitality capital of South Africa, with over 200 000 jobs supported by tourism in our province.
The reality of this sector is that restaurants rely on alcohol sales to remain profitable. If properly licensed establishments are not allowed to sell alcohol on site, they will not be able to remain financially viable.
We therefore have a complex situation to address in our province, where the continued suspension on the sale of alcohol will result in a jobs blood bath – mainly in our poorer, rural communities. We cannot ignore this.
We must also remember that the suspension of alcohol was not just because it provided harm in general. Rather, the stated reason is that alcohol related cases were undermining the ability of healthcare systems to provide care to Covid-19 patients. Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said as much recently in court papers.
This is not so in our province. The Western Cape has passed its peak and currently has adequate platform capacity, to the extent that we will soon be considering whether all our field hospitals need to remain open.
Given this fact, and the dire consequences of this ban on the livelihoods of our people, we can no longer support the continued suspension on the domestic sale of alcohol in the Western Cape.
Our Cabinet has therefore adopted the following position:
For as long as the Western Cape can assure access to health facilities for all Covid-19 patients, the temporary ban on the sale of alcohol should be lifted immediately, in conjunction with the implementation of smart interventions to curb the negative impacts of alcohol over the medium to long term.
It is important to stress that the Western Cape Government will continue to tackle alcohol harms, through a number of smart interventions. That is why we have established an Alcohol Harms Task Team, which will drive initiatives aimed at reducing the harms of alcohol on our society. The Department of Community Safety in the province, and invitations to participate will be issued shortly.
A blunt, blanket ban is not viable, but intelligent plans that tackle the root cause of the problem can make a difference.
Adapting to the new normal
On behalf of the Western Cape Government, I will now engage the Minister of Cooperative Governance, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, on this position – as the National Government is responsible for the National Disaster Management Act. I have already requested a meeting to do so.
Covid-19 is not going away in the next week or next month - it is likely to be with us for at least another 18 months. The sooner we all adapt to the new normal, the better.
In doing so, we must reject the false dichotomy that we have to pick between providing healthcare to those infected with Covid-19 and keeping the economy open. If we work together with the private sector, and we intervene smartly in addressing harms, we can do both. The Western Cape Government is committed to doing this.
We will not let our foot off the pedal in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. This remains our priority. But we will also fight against the second, unemployment pandemic with equal determination. If we do both, we will save lives now and, in the future, too.
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