S.A loosens lockdown to revive battered economy

South Africa (SA) sought to revive its stuttering economy on Monday with a partial lifting of its coronavirus lockdown, letting people out for work, worship or shopping, and allowing mines and factories to run at full capacity.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was praised when he ordered a strict lockdown at the end of March, but the measures have battered Africa’s most industrialised economy, which was already in recession before the outbreak.

South Africa’s central bank expects the economy, which has also been hard hit by the impact of power cuts at crisis-hit state energy firm Eskom, to contract 7 per cent this year.

But moving to “level 3” lockdown so soon has been questioned by some who say it will increase the number of coronavirus cases, which jumped above 30,000 over the weekend.

“We are taking a gradual approach, guided by the advice of our scientists and led by the realities on the ground,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.

The rand rose against the dollar but after midday it had fallen back slightly and was trading just 0.14 per cent up.

South Africa has so far had fewer than 700 coronavirus deaths. Many more South Africans, half of whom live below the official poverty line, are at risk from hunger because of the shutdown and industry officials said the outlook remained bleak.

Although schools were ordered to open on Monday for some pupils, unions urged staff to stay away, saying schools were not properly equipped. 

The education ministry backed down on Sunday and pupils will now return the week after next. Teachers will come in this week for training and protective gear. 

Education Minister Angie Motshekga apologised for the last-minute U-turn at a press conference on Monday.

“The reopening was a real uphill … We have lost a whole term and we are likely to lose more time because of the virus,” she said.

However, Western Cape province, run by the opposition Democratic Alliance, said its schools would re-open on Monday, because they were appropriately equipped. The province is the main coronavirus hot spot, with two thirds of confirmed cases.

Masked teachers held up placards outside schools in Cape Town’s Bishop Lavis township to protest that decision. -Reuters

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