Thousands of jobs and billions of rand are haemorrhaging from the Western Cape’s economy, premier Alan Winde said on Tuesday as he called for a special president’s co-ordinating council (PCC) meeting on lockdown regulations.
Among Winde’s requests were a lifting of the beach ban, a later evening curfew, and a return of alcohol sales on certain days in the week and at restaurants and wine farms.
He wrote to Ramaphosa asking for a meeting as data showed a decline in active Covid-19 cases in the Western Cape from a high of 43,971 on January 11 to 19,407 on Tuesday.
Level 3 lockdown regulations were introduced on December 28 as Covid-19 cases picked up around the country and ahead of new year celebrations. Alcohol sales were banned to curb trauma cases related to drunkenness.
Four weeks later, Winde said the province was heading towards an economic disaster and restrictions needed to be relaxed urgently.
“We are fast approaching a month since the adjusted alert level 3 restrictions came into effect. At the time, it was made clear by the president that these restrictions would be in place for 14 days and thereafter reviewed considering the evidence,” said Winde.
Winde said the Western Cape has since experienced sustained declines in active cases, hospitalisations, the test positivity rate, oxygen use and health worker infections.
Winde asked that the ban on people being on beaches and in other public spaces be lifted, saying open spaces with good ventilation are safer, the festive season is over and people are back at work.
He also asked that the curfew be changed to 11pm-4am instead of 9pm-5am. “The current curfew makes it impossible for restaurants to provide a dinner service and this sector is buckling as a result,” said Winde.
He asked that alcohol sales be permitted from Monday to Thursday, at wine farms at weekends, and for drinking to be allowed at restaurants.
“If restaurants cannot sell alcohol with dinner service, they will not remain profitable and will be forced to close. This will result in many job losses,” said Winde.
There was a 60% drop in tourist visits to the Western Cape’s top destinations over the festive season compared with the previous year, and Winde said the lockdown restrictions were hammering an already severely weakened sector.
Winde claimed there were more than enough hospital beds in the province. “All 200 beds at the Mitchells Plain Hospital of Hope field hospital have been commissioned. Not all of these beds have been used,” he said.
“Of the 136 additional beds that could have been brought online, should more be needed, we have only needed to bring 20 beds online because of the hospital stabilisation.”
Medical facilities in the province had adequate oxygen, 529 job offers had been made to health workers and 81 had already started.
Winde sketched a grave picture of a Western Cape economy in stormy waters, with the first two weeks of the latest alcohol ban estimated to have cost R1bn.
“This has impacted 1,893 direct jobs in the retail sector and 905 induced and indirect jobs across the value chain, resulting in 2,798 jobs being compromised,” he said.
“Nearly 30% of restaurants surveyed have closed temporarily or permanently, based on data from the Restaurant Association of SA. There is an inflection point where shortened operating hours do not make business sense to operate, resulting in workers losing their jobs.”
According to Winde, wine grapes cover half of the 181,233ha under production in the Western Cape and their replacement value is R33.94bn.
“The Western Cape’s department of agriculture estimates that 45,610 people work in the primary production side of the wine industry and it supports 228,053 people,” he said.
“Based on our tourism multiplier model which has been used in the Western Cape’s research for many years, the continued beach ban is costing the sector more than R120m per month. Some 12.8% of the annual eight million visitors indicate beach visits as their top activity”.
by Aron Hyman