President Cyril Ramaphosa has addressed the nation on the developments of SA’s risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of Covid-19. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa has addressed the nation on the developments of SA’s risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of Covid-19. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the further easing of level 3 lockdown restrictions, allowing over 500,000 more people to return to work in sectors that include hotels,  personal care services, restaurants and cinemas.

Ramaphosa’s televised speech came amid souring sentiment in boardrooms of companies that have been locked down for more than 80 days and acknowledged that the government’s R500bn package to provide a soft landing for business and employees losing their income was not enough.

“Altogether, these industries employed over 500,000 people before the lockdown. We have had to think about these people and those who depend on them for their livelihoods,” Ramaphosa said. “Through the easing of the lockdown we are continuing to balance our overriding objective of saving lives and preserving livelihoods.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa announces the easing of restrictions on restaurants for sit-down meals, some accommodation, conferences and meetings for business purposes, and cinemas and theatres, June 17 2020.

The reopening of the restaurants for sit-down dining and hotels, with the exceptions of shared accommodation such as Airbnb, on condition that they adhere to strict hygiene and social distancing protocols,  would allow their employees to join the roughly 16-million people already back at work. Much of the economy swung back into action in June when the government move to level 3 under its five-level risk adjusted system.

Other sectors that will be allowed to reopen are conference venues,  casinos, and personal care services such as hairdressers, as well as non-contact sports such as golf, tennis and cricket.

Chris du Toit, CEO of Tsogo Sun, one of SA’s biggest casinos and hotels operator, welcomed the news.  

“I almost want to call it a celebration. This is long overdue We're obviously very pleased,” du Toit told eNCA news channel.  

The tourism industry, which contributes almost 9% to GDP, has ground to a halt after the government closed all borders, banned local and international travel and grounded aeroplanes.

The lockdown was put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 but has had a devastating effect on the economy, prompting economists and think-tanks to slash their forecasts. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said last week the economy could contract by 7.5% in 2020.

The further easing of restrictions on businesses comes as the number of Covid-19 cases topped 80,412 and deaths reached 1,674. But Ramaphosa said that since the government first ordered businesses to close and citizens to stay at home, it had used the opportunity to assemble health-care resources to cope with an expected surge of new infections.

“Even after 100 days, we are still near the beginning of this epidemic and it will remain with us for many more months, possibly years. The task of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is like running a marathon race and not a sprint, and we have therefore had to shape our response according to that reality,”  he said.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za