Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel said while more still needs to be done, South Africa has risen to the challenge of responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Minister said this when he participated in the debate on government’s response to the COVID-19 at the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday.
The debate took place at a time that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases breached the 100 000 mark, with 1 991 fatalities being recorded.
“Our democracy has indeed risen to the unusual and serious challenge of the pandemic. Although much needs to be done, we have shown that South Africans have the resilience and fortitude to address this challenge of our time,” he said.
Patel said government’s response to the pandemic has been bold and appropriate to the scale of the crisis, which has been taken seriously by many policymakers from around the world.
He said the combination of measures to slow down the pandemic and get society ready to live with the virus until a vaccine is found have yielded positive results in the first 100 days.
The Minister highlighted several areas that government undertook to respond to the “unprecedented” pandemic in recent history.
- Undertaking an economic impact surveillance to identify the key risks and challenges faced with the pandemic so that the response can be based on the best available evidence;
- Working with private sector finance agencies to secure essential health stock. This led to the development of an integrated health stocks database and enabled the country to double the production of face masks to six million a month;
- Government introduced export controls on critical medical supplies in order to ensure supply to the local market and neighbouring countries;
- Government secured scarce medical supplies from elsewhere in the world and locally, launched industrial policy interventions through the national ventilator project;
- Government implemented interventions to ensure food and basic goods supply lines from the farms to the shop to avoid food shortages in the country;
- Measures were taken to mitigate the economic impact on workers and firms;
- A broader solidarity within society was developed and social protection measures were implemented to protect the vulnerable, which led to the establishment of the solidarity fund;
- Regulators facilitated and supported the cooperation to keep firms in businesses, including exemptions from competition legislation to enable deeper collaboration and working together;
- Government managed the lockdown and the reopening of the economy through a risk adjusted approached, and this helped to slow down the movement of people, while maintaining essential and critical economic services; and
- Government’s response laid a foundation for a post-COVID economy.
“We cannot go back to a pre-COVID economy. We must take the opportunity now to build a more inclusive, dynamic and jobs rich economy that the vision of the Freedom Charter entails,” he said.
Earlier in the debate, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said there is consensus that COVID-19 should be a reset button and it will chart a better and more inclusive growth path which will create vibrant, resilient and climate-smart communities.
“It is for that reason that working in the districts is going to be critical. We must build our economies through, in part, infrastructure and that infrastructure must also include the provision of basic needs – water, electricity, sanitation, health and education social infrastructure, human settlements and roads. It must also mean the decentralisation of economic activities to the districts if not to the local municipalities,” she said.
She said government will, as President Cyril Ramaphosa said, not rush to open the economy in order to avoid a surge in infections. A gradual approach to opening up the economy will be taken.
“We don’t want to have massive deaths. This country, during the Spanish flu, lost more than 300 000 people almost within six weeks around black October. We don’t want that situation, so we have to balance saving lives but at the same time, we have to balance livelihoods,” she said.