To assist individuals, economic stakeholders and policy makers in managing the Covid-19-related risks of reopening the South African economy, Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (Tips) is launching a weekly monitor to track the spread of Covid-19 and its impact on the economy.
To be published every Monday, from May 18 onwards, the Tips Tracker on the Economy and the Pandemic, is intended to help South Africans achieve some certainty.
By providing up-to-date information on trends in both the pandemic and the economy, it aims to assist especially policy makers, workers and businesses to understand and manage the risks as the country moves to reopen economic activity.
The tracker will provide ongoing analyses on the state of the contagion in South Africa, benchmarked against international experience, as well as economic developments nationally and globally at both sectoral and macroeconomic level.
It will include brief discussions of relevant topics and links to important articles on economic prospects and the reopening of the economy.
Tips senior economist Neva Magketla explains that the tracker is needed because measures to relax the lockdown mean that South Africans must take more responsibilities, individually and collectively, for preventing the spread of Covid-19. “The relaxation of the lockdown is occurring even as the incidence is still rising, although very slowly outside of the Western Cape.”
She notes that to help prevent an escalation in infections, economic stakeholders need to understand the available evidence on the state of the contagion, as well as the economic risks and opportunities.
“In effect, the move to lower levels does not mean the risk level is lower, but rather that individuals can evaluate the risks and enforce infection prevention measures rather than relying on fixed rules.”
The personal and economic risks of widespread infection will remain until a treatment or vaccine is available, Magketla notes.
The importance of this kind of overview emerged from Tips research, which pointed to key lessons from countries that have controlled the pandemic.
The study found that the countries that have been successful in curbing the spread of the virus had ensured extensive public communication on the nature of the risks and how individuals, companies and organisations can manage them.
It also pointed to restrictions on economic activity in these countries being defined, not by products or industry, but by the extent of public access.
The research also noted that opening industry was significantly slow for non-essential retail, public transport, personal services (such as hair salons and tattoo parlours) and closed entertainment venues.
However, it was faster for production sites, logistics and other activities that do not directly engage with the public.
According to the research, non-essential personal services and closed entertainment venues, including clubs, restaurants and gyms, have universally been the last to open.
Makgetla points out that, in this context, as South Africa opens up non-essential retail, it is critical that these spaces do not trigger new infections, with stringent measures needed to secure staff and public safety.
“Going forward, good practice would suggest that the mall owners take responsibility for ensuring physical distancing in queues as well as generally in shops and other spaces, including by limiting the numbers allowed inside malls and individuals shops at any one time.”
She states that successful countries all built on pre-existing occupational health and safety systems, which inevitably give employees (the most affected people) a role in monitoring and enforcement.
In this regard, the “new normal” requires considerable reorganisation of production to ensure physical distancing (where necessary through barriers), sanitation, daily screening of employees for temperature and other symptoms and rigorous quarantine where any symptoms emerge, even if test results are not yet available.
Further, it also necessitates registering the contact details of all workers and visitors to enable tracing, as well as staggering shifts to reduce crowding in public transport and workplaces, providing break areas for employees that enable physical distancing and reporting suspected cases to public health authorities.