The decision to allow personal services and in-door recreation such as casinos and restaurants, which pose a high risk of infection, marked an abrupt about-turn in the government’s Covid-19 strategy. Now individuals are expected to manage the risk of infection while returning to work. Given SA’s unusually deep inequalities, this new freedom means many people face impossible choices. To paraphrase Anatole France: Once again, both rich and poor are free to go to work, buy alcohol, sleep under bridges and beg in the streets.

Four factors underpin the shift in strategy. First, high-risk businesses lobbied heavily to reopen earlier than originally planned. Experience in other policy areas, notably trade and the climate crisis, demonstrates that lobbying is most effective when a small interest group suffers visible costs from measures that ultimately would provide greater but less tangible benefits to the majority...

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