Gauteng infections are slowing so focus can shift to the economy, Makhura says

As the rate of infections in Gauteng continues to fall, the province’s focus will now shift to its plans to help the recovery of SA’s economic hub, premier David Makhura has said.  

Gauteng ordinarily contributes more than a third of SA’s GDP, but this year, in line with devastating national projections, the province’s economy is expected to contract 6%. 

Gauteng has been the epicentre of the pandemic for weeks, and while modeling initially projected that the peak would hit the province later in August or September, the amount of daily infections has gone down dramatically since a high point in July. 

While the majority of the economy opened up at the beginning of June, which contributed to the surge in infections, some sectors have still not been able to do business, especially key industries such as alcohol and tobacco sales. 

The justification for the re-introduction of the alcohol ban — which came at great economic cost for a sector that contributes 3% to SA’s GDP and is responsible for more than 1-million jobs — was based on the need to free up hospital beds. The DA-led Western Cape government said at the weekend that domestic alcohol sales should be allowed immediately. 

In a sitting of the provincial legislature on Tuesday, Makhura said President is expected to address the nation on the lockdown later this week. 

Makhura said the province’s residents have “every reason” to continue having hope in the battle against the pandemic in Gauteng. He said the infections are not merely stabilising, but declining, and that the peak did not pan out as expected. 

Makhura said Gauteng’s hospitals are coping and that the amount of daily admissions is vastly lower than in June and July. This now raises questions around whether it will be necessary to increase the bed capacity in the province. 

“When the situation improves, it means we can focus on additional measures on the economy,” Makhura said. 

This means the province can focus on its growth plan, with Makhura specifically mentioning the construction sector, which has been badly affected by the lockdown. He said the residents of Gauteng must be assured that the provincial government is going back to all the projects and initiatives in its economic roadmap. 

E-toll saga

Regarding other matters that were delayed as a result of the pandemic, Malesela Ledwaba, an EFF MP, asked Makhura when he last engaged with Ramaphosa and transport minister Fikile Mbalula on the controversial e-tolling system and what the outcomes of those engagements were. 

The e-toll saga has been going on for years, with a large portion of Gauteng residents refusing to pay for the system installed on the province’s highways. It’s a highly political matter that has cost the ANC at the polls in previous elections. 

Ramaphosa had appointed a cabinet task-team to look into the matter last year, but a decision was kicked out to 2020. 

On Tuesday, Makhura said there have been no meetings over this issue during the lockdown, which has been in place since late March. He said given that the situation is stabilising, especially in Gauteng, it is now possible to raise issues such as this.

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