Mixed reactions on presidential address on Level 2

Let’s rewind for a minute; ‘We have been here before’. Where there are speculations about how the much-desired easing of the lockdown induced regulations are most likely to unfold.

Luckily for some industries unlike others, the speculations have turned out to be true.

But the big debate around this always boils down to the readiness of the health system and need for the economy to fully function in order to save jobs.

On Saturday, President is set to address the nation on Risk Adjustment Strategy for alert level two.

This comes after the Forum of South African Directors-General (Fosad) has recommended to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) that South Africa be moved to lockdown level two.

Under the various interactions of advanced level three a lot of permissible activities, that would have taken place in levels one and two of government’s risk-adjusted strategy on reopening the economy published in April, have been brought forward.

Government has allowed activities such as restaurants to open for sit-down operations, there’s been a relaxation on the ban on leisure travel and accommodation within one’s own province, curfew has been extended to between 22h00 and 04h00 and business and other authorised air travel is also allowed.

The move to alert level tow indicates a moderate spread with a high health system readiness.

According to Charles Parry, director of the alcohol, tobacco and other drug research unit at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), most provincial hospitals will be able to withstand the eased regulations, if there are ‘tougher’ regulations on alcohol availability and advertising.

Parry says that data from 10 hospitals in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Western Cape, show that in the four weeks following the second ban on liquor sales and the institution of a 21h00 curfew, there has been on average a 38% decrease in trauma presentations.

“I have heard parts of what the government is negotiating with industry but I think the government should push for stronger regulations on container sizes,” Parry says.

He suggests that beer and cider bottles should be limited to 500 ml while wine and spirits should be no more than 750 ml.

He emphasis that the risk of easing the regulations is huge and there is no guarantee that, trauma units will not be congested again with patients from alcohol-related accidents.

His colleague, Catherine Egbe, a specialist scientist at SAMRC calls for smokers to re-think their lifestyle choice in the midst of the pandemic, despite the decision government will take.

“People are now more aware of the dangers smoking poses to their health and this should guide people’s actions and decision about smoking going forward. People should be protected from exposure to second-hand smoke, stay smoke-free if you have already quit” Egbe says.

Not so optimistic

The liquor and tobacco industry has been vocal about the ban on its industries, and with the speculation of the bans being lifted it is weary of celebrating before the possible announcement of the restrictions being lifted, citing- ‘we have been here before’.

Representing the manufacturers and distributors in alcohol beverages, Kurt Moore says the South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (SALBA) had made recommendations to government to reconsider its ban, but they have not yet received confirmation whether it will be lifted.

“We do not know if the ban will be lifted. No official date has been given,”

Moore says that even when the ban is lifted, the industry will never recover he loses incurred.

“The wine industry has lost R5 billion.  Every week the ban continues we lose R400 million,” Moore says.

Chairperson of the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) Sinenhlanhla Mnguni shares the same sentiments.

“At this point, we are cautiously monitoring the situation. There have been similar rumours circulating in the past only for government to continue with the ban, so we are not getting too excited just yet. A decision to lift the ban, however, would be welcomed,” Mnguni says.

He too says there has not been any engagement between industry and government in relation to the sale of cigarettes for the anticipated alert level two.

“We have always stated that our door is open, and we accordingly wait for government to give us an audience,” Mnguni says.

Mnguni points out that even though it isn’t clear what the regulations are going to be, billions have been lost not only by the industry along the value chain, but also by the fiscus as SARS has not been able to collect much revenue from the tobacco industry as a result of the ban.

Philip Morris South Africa’s corporate communications, Rashaad Hajee says that they will only be certain if the tobacco ban will be lifted when the gazette is published.

“There has been ongoing speculation over the past 5 months that the ban could be lifted, however, we can only be sure of this once new regulations are issued. We are therefore unable to comment further on this but remain hopeful that the government will soon lift the ban”.

British American Tobacco uttered the same sentiments.

Tourism and Air Travel calls for inter-provincial travel

The tourism sector has been one of the industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic globally, and it will continue to feel the impact of .

Every day the country has been under lockdown around R740 million was lost to the sector and 600 000 jobs are anticipated to be lost.

Chief Executive Officer at the Tourism Business Council, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa says if the President is going to open up the economy and wants the country to thrive and for tourism employees to go back to work, he should announce the allowance of inter-provincial travel.

“People must cross the provinces because people in Gauteng are the ones who feed Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Free State and the Drakensburg area with travel.”

“There’s no reason to open a hotel in Bela Bela if people cannot move,” Tshivhengwa says.

He added that the discussion on when international travel will be allowed can’t be avoided any longer and government needs to give the sector a date on when it will be allowed even if it is with restrictions.

All air travel would be permitted in Alert Level 1 but Tshivhengwa said that could be next year and the country did not have the “luxury” to wait until then especially with the Spring and Summer seasons at our doors.

“Tanzania is open and we know Kenya has put a date down to open (August 1) and those are our competitors,” he said explaining that people in our key source markets who want to go to Safari will go to these countries if South Africa does not open its borders.

FlySafair chief marketing officer Kirby Gordon says the aviation market was currently “operating between 6% and 8% of the seats that were available this time last year”.

The airline accounts for 60% of that domestic share which it says is still modest with demand being restricted by the regulations.

“We have built up to a point where we are now operating between 22 and 26 flights a day, depending on the day of the week, but this is only a fraction of. What we are capable of operating,” says Gordon adding that they are staffed and fleeted to operate 84 flights a day which was a norm before lockdown.

While a lift of the ban on interprovincial travel won’t be a silver bullet to solve to low demand especially in an environment where economic growth is expected to decline. However, Gordon said full domestic travel would provide the “the first step up toward a point where we can actually start thinking about recovering anything lost”.

“Right now, we are just fighting to survive.”

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