Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Cosatu has called on the government to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, saying the state cannot run the embattled economy on relief grants, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and food parcels.

Trade union federation spokesperson Sizwe Pamla told Business Day on Monday that SA needs to move to level 3 “as soon as it is safe to do so” and the move must be guided by the need to save lives and minimise infections.

“There is a risk that infections will increase, and the necessary health and safety measures must be put in place to reduce this risk.”

Pamla stressed that the state couldn’t afford to run the struggling economy on food parcels and relief benefits issued by the UIF, which has disbursed almost R11bn in coronavirus relief benefits to date.

On March 25, employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi established the Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (Ters), administered by the UIF, to provide relief to those in formal employment expected to lose their income due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

According to projections by the National Treasury, SA could lose up to 7-million jobs and see unemployment shooting up from 29.1% to 50%. It projected the economy would contract by 6.4%.

On April 21, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a R500bn social and economic package aimed at keeping the SA economy going during the pandemic.

“Level 3 will allow most workers to resume work. This is critical to ensuring that their jobs can be saved and that they can provide food for their families. But it must be done in a manner which protects their lives,” said Pamla.

This as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is now at 10,015, with 194 deaths. Of the 10,015 cases, the Western Cape accounts for 5,168, followed by Gauteng at 1,952 and KwaZulu-Natal at 1,353.

Ramaphosa is expected to visit the Western Cape, now the epicentre of Covid-19 in the country, later in the week.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize met Western Cape provincial government leaders at the weekend because of concerns about the rapid increase of numbers in the province.

On May 1, the country downgraded from level 5 to level 4 lockdown to allow for key sectors of the economy including mining, manufacturing and agriculture to resume operations.

Pamla said they hoped Ramaphosa's visit to the Western Cape would help deal with the DA-run province's alleged “lack of a clear plan” to fight the virus.

He said decisive action is needed in hotspots such as the Western Cape and to a “lesser degree the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The Western Cape is particularly concerning. Few clear reasons have been given as to why its rates are so high.”

On Monday, SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo told Business Day that they were worried about the pandemic's impact on people.

“There has been more emphasis on profitmaking (the economy) than on human life. The DA has been pushing a similar approach across SA, which is dangerous,” said Mashilo.

On Friday, DA leader John Steenhuisen called on Ramaphosa to “end this lockdown crisis and get as many of us back to work as safely as possible”, adding: “Let me be very clear about this: There is no longer a justification to keep this hard lockdown in place.”

National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) president Pat Mphela told Business Day that all “Covid-19 hotspots” should be “strictly locked” to ensure stricter screening, testing and implementation of isolation measures.

“Nactu is of the view that we should immediately move to level 3 to ease the economic ramifications, while enforcing strict compliance measures,” he said.

In his weekly newsletter on Monday, Ramaphosa conceded that “extreme precautions” remained in placed under level 4 to limit community transmission.

He said the risk of infection outbreaks will increase, and the demands on clinics and hospitals and medical personnel will grow.

“That is why easing the lockdown restrictions must not result in careless behaviour by individuals or reckless practices by businesses keen to resume activity at the cost of human health,” said Ramaphosa.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za