“The Western Cape Government does not support a move to Alert Level 2 – it is not supported by our data, and it will undermine our economic recovery”
The Western Cape Government’s response to COVID-19 has from the very beginning been based on data, evidence and science.
We have also always maintained that a balance must be achieved in saving both lives and livelihoods in our province.
This is because a humanitarian crisis caused by economic restrictions will also cost lives in the Western Cape and South Africa.
In considering whether a move to Alert Level 2 should be introduced ahead of the upcoming religious holidays, we have again applied these guiding principles and compared the data available to us.
Our health platform data, as per last week’s DigiCon, is as follows:
- There continues to be a decline in cases, admissions and deaths in the Western Cape (although starting to plateau).
- The proportion of positive tests remains stable at 5.1%.
- We are approaching the situation seen between the first and second waves, although we have not reached it yet.
- The reproductive number remains below 1.
- Cases in the Cape Metro declined by 20%.
- Cases in the rural districts overall have declined by 26%.
- 18 treatment plants have detected no COVID-19 in wastewater, up from 9 previously.
- There are only 20 active COVID-19 cases amongst our healthcare workers.
- Occupancy in COVID-19 beds in the Cape Metro are at 15%, in the George drainage area at 16%, in the Paarl drainage area at 21%, and the Worcester drainage area at 23%.
- COVID-19 positive patients and People Under Investigation (PUI) only make up 7% of all general acute care beds in the province.
- There are just 27 patients at the Brackengate Hospital of Hope (338 bed capacity).
- There are just 41 patients at the Mitchells Plain Hospital of Hope (200 bed capacity).
This data, overall, demonstrates a health platform that currently has the capacity to respond to COVID-19.
On the other hand, the Western Cape’s economy was hit hard last year, and we are only now starting to see signs of a delicate recovery.
Our economic and humanitarian considerations are as follows:
- According to Wesgro’s research, net job losses in 2020 exceeded 150 000 in the Western Cape.
- Almost all the top tourism attractions in the Western Cape reflected a more than 60% drop in visitors over the peak tourism season in December.
- The Easter period is very important for domestic tourism in South Africa and limiting demand now will result in even more job losses.
- Nearly 30% of restaurants surveyed have closed temporarily or permanently, based on data from the Restaurant Association of South Africa.
- The previous beach ban is estimated to have cost the sector at least R120 million a month. Some 12,8% of visitors indicate beach visits as their top priority.
- According to an industry impact report by Cape Town Tourism, released in February 2021, 68% of businesses surveyed have already let staff go and 83% have implemented pay cuts.
- The same report found that of those businesses that are still operating, 68% are relying on the domestic market to keep their doors open, given low demand by international travelers.
- The first two bans on alcohol have already resulted in an estimated 165 000 job losses country wide, and this sector is important for sustaining agri jobs in the Western Cape.
- For example, wine grapes represent 50,3% of the 181,233ha under production in our province, and the replacement value of these wine grapes amounts to R33,94 billion.
- The Western Cape’s Department of Agriculture further estimates that 45 610 people work in the primary production side of the wine industry alone, supporting 228 053 people.
- According to the National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, 18% of South African households reported someone going hungry by the end of last year.
When comparing this concerning data with the current status of our health platform, it becomes clear that moving to Alert Level 2 at this stage would not achieve the balance we need to save both lives and livelihoods in the Western Cape.
I am particularly worried that it will level another devastating blow to our tourism and hospitality economy in the Western Cape, which is under immense pressure currently, and which needs this upcoming holiday period to recover.
One must also consider that there are currently numerous restrictions in place under Alert Level 1, which need to be properly enforced to ensure compliance with important health protocols.
With this said, our government will continue to do everything we can to ensure we delay a possible third wave for as long as possible.
We fully agree that this period is a major risk and that every single person, family, business, and civil society grouping has a role to play. Personal responsibility is going to be critical over the next few weeks.
For our part, we will not let our foot off the pedal and will continue to intervene to slow the spread of COVID-19:
- We will continue with our targeted hotspot approach to ensure an all-of-government, all-of-society response to the pandemic.
- We have already launched an awareness campaign to urge residents to behave responsibly over this upcoming religious period.
- We will continue to work with religious groupings through our Faith Based Organisation Network to ensure the behaviour change needed.
- We will use our advanced surveillance monitoring systems to detect and respond to clusters when they emerge, and we will transparently share this data with the public weekly so they can see when the situation changes.
- We will continue to work with businesses to ensure they are compliant.
- The Western Cape Liquor Authority will continue to take action against those businesses that break the rules.
- We will leverage our partnerships across the Western Cape, especially with local governments, to ensure enforcement of existing restrictions to ensure compliance with important health and safety protocols.
I want to urge every single person to play their part so we keep our infections and hospital admissions down, and so that we can continue to get this delicate balance right in our province.
Please urge your family, friends, neighbours and loved ones to:
- Avoid crowded places, especially where there is poor ventilation.
- Wear a mask whenever in public, or with people outside of your own household.
- Gather outdoors, and remember to keep it short and small, to limit exposure.
- Protect those at greatest risk of severe COVID-19 infection such as those with comorbidities and the elderly.
- Think smartly and act responsibly so that you don’t put yourself in a situation where you either get infected with COVID-19 or spread COVID-19.
Let’s all work together now to save both lives and jobs in the Western Cape.