NEWS & ANALYSIS

Cape Chamber warns against weakening national unity in the fight against COVID-19

Geoff Jacobs says although some changes appear on side of common sense, some restrictions make no sense

Cape Chamber warns against weakening national unity in the fight against COVID-19

21 May 2020

Any lifting of constraints imposed on our freedom of movement is a relief, but what has changed in Level-4 has done little to ease the crushing burden under which the private sector is suffering, especially those thousands of small and micro-enterprises that play such a crucial role in the lives of large sections of our population.

For them, the restrictions offer a stark choice – obey them and starve, or disobey them and perhaps scrape a living.

The breaking of the countrywide consensus that prevailed under level-5 restrictions is now the greatest threat to winning the battle against Covid-19.

The reason is simple: As more details are released about what can and cannot be allowed, more confusion rather than light has been thrown on how the national government’s decisions are reached and why they are what they are.

Although some changes appear on the side of common sense – freeing up e-commerce for instance – some restrictions make no sense, and seem to owe more to a dangerous desire to treat us all as children, or as some have said, as subjects rather than as free citizens.

No one likes to be restricted. However, we have accepted the need for stringent regulations, but many of us are now wavering, particularly when we see those deciding on the Covid-19 rules surrounding themselves with secrecy.

The result is that as newer regulations are promulgated, the less they are respected. So many now question them, not on health grounds – the numbers dying from the virus are thankfully relatively small – but on ther impact on their ability to remain employed, run a small business, and generally to survive.

Add to this the official secrecy underpinning the ban on selling open-toed shoes, forbidding the purchase of t-shirts unless used as undergarments, and compound this with the lunacy of the off-again-on-again- ban on cigarettes, and the heavy-handedness of some police officers and soldiers, and we now risk breaking apart that wonderful sense of national unity that dominated the Level-5 period.

That is a shame on everyone. Our government is feeling its way, and however some of us may be infuriated by decisions taken or proposed, we in the private sector should not abandon our prime strength which is the ability to adapt and adapt fast – much more quickly than government – and doing so after careful consideration of both threats and opportunities.

Above all, in articulating its stance on the urgency of relaxing the lockdown regulations in order to open up the economy, businesses should be taking the lead in ensuring that all the health and safety protocols are in place for the safety of their employees, customers and suppliers. These sensible health precautions include social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitizing, frequent handwashing, self-isolation if infected, and the re-arranging of the workspace, as necessary.

While business is acutely aware of our weak economy, made weaker by the health crisis, its leaders should remember that government has the unenviable task of balancing the health interests of its citizens, in order to save lives, with the economic interests of the country, in order to ensure livelihoods.

When so few in government actually understand how an economy works, we must expect that they will get some things wrong. And, as is daily evidenced in the rest of the world, no leaders anywhere have a perfect record in dealing with Covid-19.

So, let us cut the government a little slack. Its members, like many of us, are scared. And besides, just like us - they do not react well to jeers.

Issued by Dean Le Grange, Media and Digital Co-ordinator, Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 21 May 2020