COVID-19 –How the WHO word on Africa could influence SA big lockdown choice

By Chris Bishop

African officials will today sketch out the victories and defeats of the continent‘s fight against COVID-19 in a webcast. It is likely that South African government officials will be listening in carefully ahead of what could be a crucial decision this weekend about the lockdown that has been causing chaos in the economy.

South Africa is due to come out of its 21-day lockdown at midnight on April 16. Sources close to President Cyril Ramaphosa say cabinet will meet this Easter weekend to debate whether to extend the lockdown. The union umbrella Cosatu believes that the lockdown will continue, but maybe with concessions to some parts of the economy.     

The economic damage has already been done in most sectors. The South African Reserve Bank has warned that the lockdown could cause 370,000 people to lose their jobs and 1,600 businesses to go under. 

Mining employs nearly half a million people and its mines have been largely idling under the lockdown under expensive care and maintenance, largely to stop them from flooding, in a closure likely to cost the industry more than a billion Rand-a-day in sales. Even if the lockdown is eased next week it will take many weeks for the mines to ramp back up to full production.

On a worldwide scale the World Trade Organization has warned that global trade is heading for its worst year in decades – worse than the slump at the height of the world financial crisis more than a decade ago. It warns of The World Trade Organisation warned that what it calls “ugly” declines in world trade that will cause painful consequences. It is forecasting a drop of between 13 and 32 per cent in global goods trade this year.

Roberto Azevedo, the director general of the WTO, also talked of a rapid rebound in world trade providing countries left their markets open, The Times in London reported.

All of this will have to be taken into account by the South African cabinet as it debates its way to the crucial decision this weekend.

Mastshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation Director for Africa, is expected to give details today of the fight against COVID-19. They will include the infection rate, the number of ventilators on the continent – last week officials said they didn’t know how many – and prospects for a vaccine. Moeti, born in South African and brought up in Botswana, has so far been the calm face of the fight against COVID-19 in Africa. As the weeks wear on her calm approach is likely to be tested.

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