THE COUNTRYWIDE national lockdown has served its purpose and it is now time to open the economy, Lionel October, the Department of Trade and Industry told Parliament on Friday.
October said South Africa’s economy, like many others across the globe, will no doubt contract quite seriously as a result of the impact of COVID-19.
A large part of the economy is expected to reopen as the country moves to level three of the lockdown next month, he told MPs.
The country eased the lockdown, imposed on March 27, from level five to level four on May 1, allowing certain businesses to resume operations.
Despite the rapid spread of the pandemic, there have been growing calls for further easing the lockdown to level three, which will allow more businesses to reopen and greater movement of people.
On Thursday, South Africa reported 1,134 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, the highest daily record since the country recorded its first case in early March.
With the newly-added cases, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa stood at 19,137, the highest on the African continent.
The committee heard that as part of interventions to keep industries afloat during this difficult period, the department is assisting companies in distress through funding and has also made significant investments assisting companies manufacturing protective equipment.
“The procurement is done by the departments of health and education. Our role is to mobilise the industry to make sure it is able to produce and protect jobs,” October said.
The committee also heard that though the lockdown has had devastating effects on the economy, it has achieved its objectives and the provinces were now prepared for an increase in cases of Covid-19.
There is, however, conflicting advice on South Africa’s planned move to relax the lockdown, especially from the World Health Organisation, which has advised that the rate of infection must first fall before countries can start relaxing lockdown.
Government is in a process to finalise consultation with different stakeholders on how to systematically reopen industries and get the economy back to work.
Industries will be required to ensure worker safety and protection as a condition to return to business and companies who do not put safety measures in place will be forced to close.
Committee Chairperson Duma Nkosi said the committee will schedule a follow-up meeting for Minister Ebrahim Patel to respond to outstanding questions raised by committee members.
(Compiled by Inside Politics staff and agencies)