IRR calls for lifting of lockdown, says not doing so will push more to poverty

Failure to immediately lift the lockdown will push more people into poverty, the Institute of Race Relations has warned.
Failure to immediately lift the lockdown will push more people into poverty, the Institute of Race Relations has warned.
Image: 123RF/nirut123rf

The longer the lockdown remains in place, the more people will be pushed into poverty, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) said.

The IRR said mounting hunger, hardship and economic decline emphasised the need for government to lift the current lockdown.

These arguments are contained in a submission made by the think tank to government on the national response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Details of the institute's submission will be presented in a media briefing on Thursday by its author, the institute's head of policy research, Dr Anthea Jeffery.

Jeffery said estimates of the economic cost of the current lockdown ranged from R13bn to R20bn a day.

She said given that the economy — after decades of mismanagement, poor policy and corruption — was on its knees even before the lockdown began, it cannot cope with this enormous additional blow.

Jeffery said the lockdown could not and did not work in teeming townships and informal settlements, where homes were clustered closely together and where scarce communal taps and toilets were shared among hundreds of residents.

Jeffery said data confirmed the current hard lockdown has not stopped community transmission to date, and therefore cannot be expected to do so in the future.

“The longer the lockdown lasts, the more hunger and hardship it will unleash,” Jeffery said.

The institute's submission argues that the key issue facing the country was not the crude one of whether “profits” can be put before “lives”, but how best to balance saving lives.

Jeffery said catastrophic consequences still loomed for millions of South Africans who could lose their jobs and homes, exhaust their savings, and go bankrupt under mountains of debt.

“With the formal economy still operating at a fraction of its normal capacity, tens of thousands of small and micro businesses could collapse before long. Many would have little or no prospect of ever coming back,” Jeffery said.

She said the longer the lockdown remained in place, “the more people will be pushed into poverty”.

The IRR recommended scrapping the lockdown with immediate effect within the parameters of three basic principles.

The first is to allow all businesses to return to work, while shouldering the burden of safeguarding their staff, customers, and suppliers against the virus as far as is reasonably practicable.

The second is to maintain social distancing for many months, and, if necessary, self-isolation or quarantining for the people most vulnerable to the virus.

The third is to keep children out of school until September as allowing their earlier return risked undoing whatever gains the lockdown has brought.

“Lifting the lockdown must be accompanied by increased efforts to slow down the spread of the virus.

“This critically depends on speedily identifying the infected so they can be isolated in their homes or, on a voluntary basis, accommodated in voucher-funded isolation or quarantine facilities,” the IRR said.