Proposals to assist govt in fighting Covid-19 – John Steenhuisen

DA leader says we are on the precipice of a full-blown national crisis

DA outlines proposals to assist government in fighting Coronavirus

17 March 2020

Note to Editors: The following comments were delivered at Parliament today at a press conference on Coronavirus.

It is safe to say that we are on the precipice of a full-blown national crisis, the implications of which will be devastating to our society, our economy, and ultimately, our future as a nation. Especially given that South Africa was in a precarious economic state prior to Covid-19’s arrival.

The DA has already pledged its full support to the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa, and we remain committed to working side-by-side with National Government to stop the spread of this virus and ensure the safety of each and every South African.

Yesterday I convened an urgent meeting of my extended shadow cabinet including the Premier of the Western Cape and the Mayor of the City of Cape Town. The shadow cabinet will reach across the aisle and contact their relevant Ministers offering any assistance they can provide. My shadow cabinet is available to form part of Ministerial task teams and to provide any necessary input into the Covid-19 response.

Each shadow minister has been asked to look at their portfolio and examine what portfolio-specific measures need to be taken to mitigate the effects of the virus while identifying loopholes in the existing measures that need to be plugged. I have also formed a Shadow Cabinet Committee which will meet regularly in order to exercise oversight over the announced response measures and to offer useful and innovative idea and approaches that governments at all levels can adopt in their response efforts.

We will submit these recommendations to the President at a multi-party meeting being held tomorrow in Cape Town:

Economic recommendations:

A four-month loan forbearance for businesses.

A four-month rental forbearance for small businesses.

Pause in VAT, UIF and Worker's Compensation Fund payments and outstanding VAT refunds should be paid to businesses urgently, and new VAT payments should be deferred to later this year.

We are engaging with DA local governments on possible immediate rates payment relief to businesses in their jurisdiction.

We propose that business rescue proceedings should receive an automatic three month extension beyond the three months provided for in S132 of the Companies Act; and

SAA’s R16.4 billion bailout should be cancelled immediately and the budget amended to allocate this money to disaster management. The Minister should also urgently clarify what funds are available in the National Disaster Management Fund.

Health Mitigation Strategies

The private sector should pledge further resources to fight Covid-19.

The DoH, through additional funds that must be made available, should sources additional Covid-19 screening and testing.

We are calling on the extension of screening and testing capacity through the coordination of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the National Health Laboratory Service and private laboratory services.

Public hotspots should be implemented as a matter of urgency. This would transport hubs, workplaces such as mining companies and communities.

The DoH should urge retired healthcare professionals to come out of retirement on a voluntary basis to be deployed to screening hotspots and managing public queries on the public hotline. The DoH should also be reaching out to medical students who can provide the service over and above their training.

The Coronavirus public hotline should be expanded and capacitated. This can be in collaboration with private partners who are already running call-centre companies.

Health and safety officials who fall within the local government structures should be deployed to shopping centres and places of high frequency to ensure that businesses are complying with the basic requirements of protecting their staff members and the public.

Other Mitigation Strategies

Parliament needs to close down, except for essential services. It is therefore disappointing that the ANC has pushed for Parliament to go ahead with a National Assembly sitting tomorrow. As Parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to set an example during this unprecedented time.

South African law enforcement should be deployed to monitor and assess the roll-out of mitigation strategies across the country.

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, however, gave a very brief and vague plan as to how he will ensure the hygiene and sanitisation of passenger rail services across South Africa. This must be better though-out.

Minister Blade Nzimande should shut down universities and suspend lectures in order to mitigate or contain the spread of COVID-19.

The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation should consider piloting a system whereby the visas of foreign residents currently in South Africa can be extended.

In municipalities and rural regions of the country where water is either scarce or has run out completely, mobile water supplies must be made available for hygiene purposes.

The DA last week wrote to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on water and sanitation to request a meeting between all relevant stakeholders to address the impact of COVI-19 on water and sanitation infrastructure.

In light of the National Disaster declaration, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs must put systems in place to monitor the implementation of contingency measures in municipalities, ensuring that disaster management funds are spent efficiently and effectively.

The Western Cape Government

The Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, has put in place a Central Provincial Structure to monitor and mitigate the Covid-19 virus.

The Joint Operations Centre has been activated 2 weeks ago and is operational on a 24/7 basis.

Work streams are meeting daily at 10:00 and there is a daily Cabinet meeting at 12:30 to receive updates and take the necessary emergency decisions.

A provincial Covid-19 hotline was introduced to relieve the pressure on the national hotline. The provincial hotline number is: 021 918 4102.

Using the Joint District Approach, local governments across the Western Cape have action plans.

Outbreak response teams are in place.

Radio messages in the three official languages of the Western Cape have been issues.

The Western Cape government are briefing various sectors, including sporting, cultural and religious bodies.

This morning, the DA Minister of Agriculture in the Western Cape, Ivan Meyer, closed the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute from Wednesday 18 March until 14 April as a precautionary measure.

Officials returning from overseas, will self-quarantine for 14 days.

City of Cape Town

Mayor Dan Plato has established a Coronavirus Task Team

City has closed various recreational hubs to avoid non-essential contact

The City has taken the decision to withdraw permits for previously approved events

MyCiti buses will no longer allow more than 20 persons on

The City has stopped non-essential travel

Call to Action

South Africa is an incredibly resilient nation, and we are known as a people to band together under any set of circumstances in order to overcome any obstacle.

The DA is leading by example. In addition to the postponement, the Party has also suspended all political meetings across the country. We have also taken precautionary to prevent the spread of Coronavirus among DA staffers. At our Federal Head Office in Cape Town, we have sent non-essential staff home for them to work remotely, de-densified our offices to prevent close contact, and conducted a full sanitisation of our offices.

Covid-19 is a collective issue which can only be solved through a collective response, and South Africa needs everyone to get on board. We need to ensure that we break the chain of infection in order to stop the virus in its tracks. This is precisely why travel restrictions, self-quarantine, and good hygiene practices are so crucial. We need to understand that while the virus may not be fatal to ourselves, it may cause the death of someone who may contract the virus from us in the greater chain of infection.

Understanding this phenomenon is key to tackling this outbreak, and public awareness campaigns must focus on this.

In this spirit, I want to make the following Calls to Action to get each and every level of society on board with the fight against Covid-19.

Private Sector Support

I want to appeal to the private sector to consider adapting its operations where possible to accommodate the President’s announced contingency measures. This includes allowing staff to work from home, providing less densified work environments for essential staff, and ensuring that workplaces are clean and sanitised at all times.

I also want to call on big business to get involved. Telecommunications companies such as Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom should consider making discounted or free data packages available for students accessing online learning platforms remotely. The private healthcare sector can assist government in augmenting patient capacity and providing additional medical supplies to regions where they are needed.

I want to call on private medical aids to make Covid-19 testing freely available on all plans without unnecessary conditions in order to fast track detection and quarantine.

Finally, I want to ask all retired doctors, nurses, and medical practitioners to volunteer as clinic workers, community outreach officers, or call centre agents in order to treat patients and assist in the ongoing public awareness campaigns.

We will only defeat Covid-19 if we roll up our sleeves and do the hard yards for the good of our country. Now is the time for us to band together as South Africans, put our country first, and defeat the Covid-19 virus.

Issued by John Steenhuisen,Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 17 March 2020