Tag: lockdown

By Jamie McKane for MyBroadband 

Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku has blamed the accelerated spread of COVID-19 in the province on the “blatant disregard” of lockdown regulations, among other factors.

Speaking in an interview with eNCA on 5 July, Masuku said that the province was in discussions with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) about how it could more strictly enforce the advanced level 3 lockdown restrictions.

The number of recorded COVID-19 cases in South Africa rose to 205,721 on 6 July, breaching the 200,000-mark.

Gauteng has emerged as a major hotspot, accounting for 32.5% of all COVID-19 cases with 66,891 recorded cases in the province.

The Gauteng government was previously discussing a plan to re-implement a hard lockdown in the province, but Masuku told eNCA the executive council has agreed to look at stricter enforcement of the current regulations instead.

“What we agreed on as the executive council is to see how we are able to apply and enforce the regulations that will help us to reduce the rate of transmission,” he said.

“These regulations are the ones that are already applied but are not being respected by the community.”

Masuku said the biggest problem was the adherence to rules around public gatherings.

“People have defied that. People are deliberately and intentionally organising social events, parties, and weddings.”

“There are regulations that prohibit those types of interactions and we want to see those being enforced,” he said.

Masuku added that people should not gather in any groups if it is not necessary.

Working with police and soldiers to enforce lockdown rules
One new restriction being considered by Gauteng is the limitation of alcohol sales to only one day per week.

Masuku did not confirm whether this would be implemented, stating only that the province had the power to regulate the sale of alcohol and it has noted the effect reopening sales has had on hospitals in the province.

“The issue of alcohol restriction is within the provincial purview and we can regulate it,” he said.

“We have seen the impact of reintroducing the sale of alcohol, what it has done to our casualties, to our trauma units, and it is something that as the provincial government we took a very strong decision around and we just feel that it should be properly regulated.”

Masuku’s statements that Gauteng would further clamp down on enforcement were supported by provincial spokesperson Thabo Masebe, who confirmed yesterday that the provincial government would not push for a hard lockdown.

“We are not calling for the return of hard lockdown. We fully understand and support the current risk-adjusted strategy, which is being implemented by the national government,” Masebe said.

“The things that we are looking at is the continued use of police, being supported by soldiers, to got to places and help enforce regulations.”

“We will also continue working with other spheres of government to go factories, shopping malls, and other places to ensure that people follow the regulations,” Masebe said.

National Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has not ruled out the possibility of a hard lockdown in the province, however, stating that this would be evaluated by the NCCC.

“At the moment we’ve not taken a decision for a hard lockdown but it cannot be ruled out as a future instrument that can be used,” he said.

By Prinesha Naidoo and Monique Vanek for Bloomberg

South Africa’s economy probably contracted more than 30% in the second quarter when restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus shuttered almost all activity for five weeks, according to central bank forecasts.

The annualised drop in gross domestic product is forecast at 32.6% for the three months through June from the previous quarter, the Pretoria-based Reserve Bank said in an emailed response to a query. That would be the deepest quarterly decline since at least 1990. The central bank’s projection in its annual report that was released on June 29 shows the economy will expand on a quarterly basis in the three months through September, which means the technical recession will be over.

The economy contracted an annualised 2% in the three months through March, the first time since 2009 that a South African recession has lasted longer than two quarters. The slump was less than projected and economists including Kevin Lings of Stanlib Asset Management warned that the fall-off in the second quarter will be severe.

South Africa implemented a strict lockdown from March 27 to limit the spread of the pandemic. For five weeks, almost all activity except essential services was halted and most citizens were only allowed to leave their homes to buy food, seek medical care and collect welfare grants.

The restrictions were eased from May 1, allowing the phased reopening of some businesses and industries. Still, many companies have closed down permanently and some of those that have resumed operations are still limited as to which services they may offer.

The Reserve Bank sees the economy contracting by 7% this year and the National Treasury projects a 7.2% decline in output. That would be the most since the Great Depression, when GDP fell by 6.2% in 1931. The near-term economic outlook is highly dependent on the development of the coronavirus pandemic and the extent of restrictions on business activity to limit the spread, the central bank said in an annual report.

South Africa is experiencing an unprecedented e-commerce boom, with transaction rates peaking at higher levels than Black Friday.

After many weeks of crippling retail restrictions which formed part of the national COVID-19 lockdown in March and April, unlimited ecommerce was allowed from 15 May.

The new regulations allowed all goods to be sold through ecommerce platforms, except for alcohol and tobacco products.

South Africans flocked to online shopping sites to buy products which were not allowed to be sold during the level 5 lockdown.

Many online shopping sites saw record sales on products like gaming consoles, laptops, vacuum cleaners, treadmills and home gym equipment, and media players.

A source close to Takealot told MyBroadband the company is now generating close to R1 billion in sales per month – around double their usual volumes.

Takealot did not confirm these numbers when it was asked for comment, but other ecommerce players also told MyBroadband their sales have more than doubled in recent weeks.

Online shopping volumes have increased so rapidly that many online retailers are struggling to cope with demand.

Takealot’s distribution centres, for example, have been overwhelmed because of the increased demand. This, in turn, has resulted in deliveries being delayed.

Many other online shops have increased their expected delivery times by over a week to address logistics bottlenecks.

Big jump in payment processing – PayGate
The companies which have the best overview of online sales volumes are online payment platforms like PayGate and PayFast.

PayGate chief sales officer Brendon Williamson told MyBroadband they have seen a marked increase in transactions since unlimited ecommerce was allowed.

“On Saturday 30 May our transactions per minute increased by double our pre-lockdown average with liquor, food, and gaming being the biggest drivers,” said Williamson.

He added that they were experiencing transaction peaks four-times higher than that of Black Friday 2019.

He said lifting the restrictions on ecommerce resulted in many people using online stores to buy products they could not purchase during level 5 of the lockdown.

“We knew this would be the case and so we had always planned to scale our systems to meet the high volumes of transactions,” said Williamson.

“The reality was we had to boost capacity by 700% just to meet consumer needs in level 3.”

While the current boom in ecommerce sales is expected to subside, sales will still be higher than usual.

“While we will see some correction during June, we expect our monthly volumes for the rest of the year to settle at around 40% higher than last year,” said Williamson.

“We believe the simplicity and efficiencies of digital commerce will keep consumers coming back for more.”

Continued growth since April – PayFast
PayFast founder and MD Jonathan Smit told MyBroadband they have seen unprecedented week-on-week increases in the number of online payments made since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Following an initial dip at the beginning of April, the weekly trendline in total sales volumes shows incremental growth,” said Smit.

PayFast saw steady week-on-week growth throughout April, which continued into the first two weeks of May in anticipation of ecommerce opening up.

“Working off an already high baseline in the middle of May, total payment volumes grew by 20% in the first week after ecommerce restrictions were lifted and by another 17% the week thereafter,” said Smit.

PayFast transactions peaked in the final week of May, with another 7% growth compared to the previous week.

“The first two weeks of June have seen slight dips, which is in keeping with monthly online shopping trends that generally spike towards the end of the month when most people get paid,” he said.

Smit added that they have registered over 7,000 new merchant accounts over the lockdown period, surpassing any other high-volume period of registrations, such as the lead-up to Black Friday.

Source: MyBroadband

While the impact of COVID-19 on IT and telecoms companies is not as severe as many other industries, these industries are still faced with big challenges because of the downturn in the economy.

ICT companies which have a lot of exposure to the travel, tourism, and restaurant industries, for example, have to deal with a significant loss in revenue.

One of these companies is Adapt IT, which said the negative impact of the lockdown on its clients in the hospitality sector has resulted in 20% of its employees being unable to work or perform their regular duties.

The poor forecast of the hospitality sector has forced Adapt IT to consider staff cuts, and it is currently in a consultation process with 4% of its permanent staff who may be affected.

Altron COO Andrew Holden told MyBroadband they have had to effect temporary layoffs due to the inability of some customers to pay for services as their businesses had been affected by the lockdown.

“Where possible, Altron will seek alternative opportunities for affected employees within the group. Retrenchments are a last resort, and will be limited as far as possible,” said Holden.

Many other large tech companies like Altron, Dimension Data, Blue Label, and Alviva have also indicated that staff cuts may be necessary in the event of a prolonged economic downturn.

Salary cuts
Many South African IT companies had to implement salary cuts to mitigate the financial impact of the lockdown.

Salary cuts in the IT industry were necessary for two main reasons:

Many clients stopped paying because of the impact of the lockdown on their businesses.
Employees could not work because their clients had to close their businesses during lockdown.
In April, EOH CEO Stephen Van Coller announced that the company’s executive committee would take a salary reduction of 25%, with other staff taking a 20% pay cut.

This was needed because of the anticipated drop in payments from clients and future uncertainty on the full impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the company.

Cell C also implemented salary cuts and used the COVID-19 TERS Relief Funds to cover the shortfalls for those employees to the extent provided by the UIF.

Alviva told MyBroadband there were no mass pay cuts at the company, but that it had to implement salary reductions in a few isolated cases.

Altron followed a different approach to ensure the sustainability of the company. Instead of cutting salaries, it reversed all salary increases granted as of 1 March.

Good news for the telecoms industry is that very few of the large mobile operators and ISPs had to implement salary cuts during the lockdown.

Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Liquid Telecom, Rain, Afrihost, Cool Ideas, and Cybersmart said they have not implemented any salary cuts during the lockdown.

The outlook for the South African ICT industry
While many large IT and telecoms companies were able to prevent retrenchments, they warned that the full impact of COVID-19 may result in staff cuts in future.

Alviva said the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and the company will inform their decision regarding future staff cuts.

Blue Label echoed this view. “Should the lockdown persist indefinitely, and economic conditions continue to adversely impact ourselves and our customers, hard decisions regarding retrenchments will have to be made,” the company said.

Dimension Data told MyBroadband should the need arise to reduce its workforce to ensure sound and responsible fiscal management, it would be done only after exhausting all possible alternatives.

“We will always take a long-term view of the market opportunities, trends, economic outlook, and investment and spend forecasts and put them in the context of our strategy and vision before making any decisions,” Dimension Data said.

Telkom said while it has not cut any salaries at this stage, it is still studying the impact of the virus and the lockdown on the business.

Schools re-open – with mixed results

Schools across South Africa opened on Monday 8 June, after a two-and-a-half month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For many schools, only Grade 7 and 12 pupils were welcomed back; however, smaller private schools that passed inspection were able to open fully.

Gauteng reported 85% attendance of both teachers and pupils on the first days of back-to-school after the lockdown closure. There are now 30 schools in Gauteng that have reported cases of Covid-19.

The Western Cape, which began classes a week earlier on Monday 1 June, says 55 schools have been affected by cases of Covid-19 in the province. A total of 11 Western Cape schools were closed on Friday last week due to Covid-19 concerns.

A Port Elizabeth high school teacher tested positive for Covid-19, resulting in the closure of Ikhwezi Lomso Comprehensive High School in Zwide township.

In East London, Parkside Primary School and East London Secondary School have both closed indefinitely due to suspected Covid-19 cases.

Two Durban high schools were forced to close on Tuesday after a teacher at each school tested positive for Covid-19.
Matric pupils at Clairwood Secondary and Apollo Secondary, both situated south of Durban, were cautioned to remain at home one day after school resumed on Monday.

On Tuesday evening, there were a total of 52 991 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across SA, with 1 162 fatalities.

South Africa enters lockdown Level 3

Source: IOL

As South Africa prepares for the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, the government’s Coronavirus Command Council has clarified the new regulations which will govern the lives of citizens from 1 June.

While the curfew which at Level 4 restricted people to their homes between 8pm at night and 5am in the morning has been lifted, a number of restrictions on movement remain in place.

Movement of people

People may only leave their homes for work, to procure groceries and essential services, exercise or perform any of the other activities permitted under Level 3.

Visiting with family and friends, exercising in groups and attending large gatherings is still forbidden.

Pupils and tertiary students may travel between their homes and their institutions of learning.

You may not move between provinces, metropolitan areas or districts except in the course of performing a service permitted under level 3, to attend a funeral, transport mortal remains, care for a sick relative or for work purposes. In each instance, a permit is required.

You may move house, but you will need a permit from the relevant authority.

All those above the age of 60, and those with underlying medical conditions, should leave home only in exceptional circumstances.

Domestic workers and private carers

All domestic workers and other care workers employed in private households may return to work, as long as their employer ensures that adequate safety measures are in place.

The employer is also required to issue them with a permit.

Exercise

The restriction on the hours when people can exercise have been eased, but not completely lifted.

You may now exercise at any time, as long as it is not an organised group activity.

Gyms, exercise centres, beaches, public parks, sports grounds and swimming pools will remain closed.

All retail outlets will be open with stringent health protocols in place. Likewise, all economic sectors are allowed to operate except those with high risk.

The consumption of food and alcohol in restaurants, bars, shebeens and taverns is still prohibited.

The sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products remains prohibited

Sale and transport of alcohol

The ban on alcohol sales has been lifted but the regulations only permit for liquor to be sold at predetermined times, and under strict conditions

Alcohol can be sold only on Monday to Thursday between 9am and 5pm. No alcohol sales are permitted on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays or public holidays.

Traders will be permitted to sell alcohol for consumption off-site and the consumption of alcohol at the place of sale is prohibited.

Gatherings

Only funerals and religious gatherings are permitted and these are capped at 50 persons, depending on the size of the place of worship.

All health protocols and social distancing measures must be adhered to as provided for directions that have been issued by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

Hotspot areas

In the coronavirus hotspots announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Justice Cluster will conduct patrols, roadblocks, and vehicle check points.

The South African Police, SANDF and local law enforcement authorities will work together to control movement in these areas.

Transport

The hours of operation of minibus, metred and e-hailing taxi operators will no longer be limited .

Commuters will have to wait another month before Metrorail begins operating again. However, t he Gautrain, which resumed operations at the beginning of May, will resume the airport service on June 1.

Public transport operators offering long distance services will be allowed to operate, provided that they only carry paasengers permitted to travel between provinces under the Disaster Management regulations.

Categories of persons permitted to travel long distance:

  • Persons undertaking work responsibilities or performing a service permitted under Alert Level 3, provided they are in possession of the requisite permit;
  • Persons moving to a new place of residence;
  • Persons caring for an immediate family member;
  • Learners or students who have to commute to and from those schools or institutions of higher learning during periods when those schools or institutions are permitted to operate;
  • Persons travelling to attend funerals;
  • Persons transporting mortal remains;
  • Persons travelling to obtain medical treatment;
  • Persons returning to their place of residence from a quarantine or isolation facility;
  • Children moving between custodial parents;
  • Members of Parliament performing oversight responsibilities.

Domestic air travel will be permitted with aircraft allowed to carry their full capacity. T he rollout of domestic flights will be done in three phases, and that the number of flights per day will be restricted.

Which airports will be allowed to open under the three phases:

Phase 1
OR Tambo International Airport
Cape Town International Airport
King Shaka International Airport, and
Lanseria International Airport

Phase 2
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
Polokwane International Airport
Bram Fischer International Airport (Bloemfontein)

Phase 3
Kimberley Airport
Upington Airport
East London Airport
Umtata Airport
Port Elizabeth Airport

The country’s borders remain closed, except for the movement of goods and the repatriation of citizens.

The ban on passenger vessels and cruise liners will remain in place and only vessels bringing in cargo would be allowed to call on South African ports.

Allowance will be made for South African registered seafarers to embark and disembark ships with a mandatory quarantine for those returning.

Tourism
Hotels and leisure accommodation remain closed, but the following activities that will be allowed under level 3 include:

  • Professional services, such as tourist guides, tour operators, travel agents, and tourism information officers;
  • Professional services, including training of nature guides and other related services able to ensure safe physical distancing;
  • Public and private game farms for self-drive excursions;
  • Hiking in compliance with existing guidelines and not in groups;
  • Accommodation activities except for leisure, and establishments would no longer require a letter from the minister to operate. They were required to ensure that they accommodated those in the permitted services and kept records for inspections by the department; and
  • Hunting and gaming activities.

Sports

Sports teams can begin training under Level 3 regulations but it matches won’t be able to resume just yet. The PSL as well as Super Rugby teams will be able to start non-contact training next week but according to the rules, games can only take place from Level 1.

Source: IOL

South Africa’s Competition Commission told the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry that since the national disaster was declared in March, it had received a total of 1 354 complaints and tip offs from the public regarding inflated prices.

The committee was told that these complaints concern allegations that retailers, traders, suppliers and pharmacies are charging excessive prices for Covid-19-related products, including masks and sanitisers, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential goods and basic food items.

The complaints have been investigated in terms of Section 8 of the Competition Act, which prohibits excessive pricing.

According to parliament, some of the complaints relate to price increases of 1 000%.

“In two instances, firms pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine after the matter was handed over to the Competition Tribunal. Covid-19-related pricing investigations by the tribunal have so far led to 13 settlements through consent orders. The total value of the settlements is R12 854 694. Special Tribunal Rules for Covid-19 price-gouging matters to be heard on an expedited basis were also published,” a statement from parliament read.

The committee heard that government regulations relating to the national disaster prohibit dominant suppliers from charging excessive prices for certain specified goods and services, mainly basic food and consumer items, medical and hygiene supplies, and other emergency products and services.

“The Block Exemption regulations exempt categories of anticompetitive agreements or practices in some industries from applying Sections 4 and 5 of the Competition Act. The Commission said that authorities should be on high alert as the economy opens up, as some companies, such as airlines, may be planning to increase prices by up to 50%. Regarding the National Consumer Commission (NCC), the committee heard that from 23 March to 12 May, the NCC received 2 900 calls on its Covid-19 toll-free hotline.”

A total of 2 533 (87,3%) calls were answered and 367 (12,7%) were lost/abandoned. Of the 2 533 complaints received to date, 1 618 complaints alleged price gouging relating to regulated essential products. The remaining 915 complaints were not related to the regulation. These complainants were referred to the relevant platforms.

Committee Chairperson Duma Nkosi, said, “The committee will continue to engage with all its entities and the department in order to monitor their work, progress and support provided to South Africans, especially during the national disaster period.”

Langa teens run R9 delivery service

By Kirsten Jacobs for Cape Town Etc

Amid the nationwide lockdown, a group of entrepreneurial teenage boys from Langa are doing good for their community by offering a R9 delivery service for essential items and takeaways.

The service, called Cloudy Deliveries, is operated by nine boys from the Langa area who ride their bikes to bring deliveries to their community. Deliveries cost a flat fee of R9.

The drivers range from 16-19 years old. The youngest team member, 12-year-old Olwethu, looks after the bicycles to make sure they are working properly and ready for the road each day.

“Our vision for Cloudy Deliveries is that we want it to be a reliable alternative to the way we do shopping or the way the exchange of money and goods take place between vendors and customers in black communities. While also having an impact in the lives of young boys in our townships,” they explain on their Facebook page.

“We would like to invite you to be part of a vision that seeks to move the community forward and a vision that wants to improve young lives by requesting a delivery and making your R9 count.”

While R9 might not seem like much, every bit helps.

“Your R9 does count and it does make a difference. It brings us closer to our vision which is to impact the lives of young boys and of providing you with a reliable alternative to the way you buy goods,” they say.

Deliveries can happen through a number of means. Customers may contact the boys on the numbers listed below, place an order at a specific shop and can ask the owner to request the delivery or simply stop the boys on the street and ask for a delivery to be made.

Source: Business Insider

This week, government gazetted new regulations for vehicle owners and public transport during the latest phase of the national lockdown.

The regulations, released on Monday, specified that no vehicles – either private or public transport – were allowed on the roads outside of 05:00 to 20:00, with a grace period of an hour, “to complete a journey”, to 21:00.

But on Wednesday, transport minister Fikile Mbalula gazetted a change to that regulation. Now, public transport – which includes minibus taxis – can operate from 05:00 to 19:00 only, with no mention of a grace period. Instead “the driver must ensure that the drop off is completed by 19:00.”

The section governing the permitted times of private vehicles on the road – a curious inclusion in regulations about public transport in the first place – has been deleted by the same amendment. This presumably means that private car owners can be on the road only till 20:00, when the national curfew starts.

Public transport will only be allowed outside of these hours if it is a chartered service for Level 4 workers, which has been arranged by an employer. The transport owners will have to present documentation to confirm this.

Under back-to-work rules some workers, including restaurant and delivery staff, are allowed to work until 19:00.

South Africa’s Unemployment Insurance Fund has paid out just over 3.3 billion rand ($177.3 million) to people whose work and income have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

The fund has processed more than half the 103,000 applications that it has received from employers on behalf of about 1.75 million employees, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told reporters in a virtual briefing on Tuesday. That means that more than 862,000 people will receive their benefits. About 10,000 applications could not be processed due to errors and the affected companies have been notified to correct their applications and resubmit, she said.

The government has been criticized for inefficiency at the UIF, with the 40 billion rand set aside to compensate temporarily laid-off workers not being distributed fast enough. The fund is working to meet extra requests for assistance, Kubayi-Ngubane said.

Africa’s most-industrialized economy will implement a curfew from the start of May as it plans a limited return of its workforce into an economy that’s virtually ground to a halt due to a lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. This economic risk-adjustment plan spans six to eight months and the governments sees the peak of the virus curve in September, according to a statement from the Government Communication and Information Service.

The government has approved an allocation of 235 million rand to small businesses’ payroll, rental and utilities for the next three months. This funding will protect about 11,000 jobs, GCIS said.

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