President Cyril Ramaphosa.
- Government will extend lockdown level 4 for another two weeks, but TERS payments will resume.
- President Cyril Ramaphosa noted the economic impact of restrictions, but warned the pandemic itself poses the greatest risk to economic recovery.
- The Covid-19 TERS scheme has provided more than R60 billion to protect the jobs of 5.5 million workers.
Lockdown level 4 will be extended for another two weeks, but the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) will be extended to support affected individuals and households, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The president on Sunday night addressed the nation, following meetings with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet in which the progress of responses to the Covid-19 pandemic was discussed. Government implemented level 4 restrictions two weeks ago, which included a sales ban on alcohol as well as limiting restaurants to providing meals for takeaway or delivery.
Both the alcohol and restaurant industries have called for financial relief, as well as for adjustments to restrictions allowing them to continue operating while maintaining Covid-19 safety protocols.
Ramaphosa on Sunday said the restrictions had been necessary to contain the third wave which is being fuelled by the new delta variant. The third wave is more severe than the previous two waves.
“As things stand now, infections remain extremely high,” Ramaphosa said. Over the past two weeks, the country has consistently recorded an average of nearly 20 000 daily new cases. The country has over 200 000 active Covid-19 cases, and over 4 200 South Africans have died over the past two weeks. “Consequently, Cabinet, after consultation with our provinces, has decided to maintain the country at adjusted level 4 for another 14 days,” he said.
Ramaphosa noted the economic impact of restrictions. “Despite the economic impact of these restrictions, we need to appreciate that it is the pandemic itself that poses the greatest threat to economic recovery.
“A prolonged period of uncontrolled infections would cause far greater economic damage than the restrictions put in place, disrupting production and deterring people from venturing out to entertainment venues and public spaces,” he said.
He also said that government recognised that the restrictions have had consequences for individuals, households and for businesses that were already under pressure before the pandemic.
Ramaphosa said following negotiations between the Unemployment Insurance Fund and social partners, it was decided to extend the Covid-19 TERS scheme for sectors affected by adjusted level 4 restrictions.
“The details of the extension will be published shortly following the finalisation of the full scheme, which will include further details on who is eligible for this support,” he said.
The Covid-19 TERS scheme has provided more than R60 billion to protect the jobs of 5.5 million workers, Ramaphosa said.
Additionally, Cabinet has decided that all business licences and permits that expired between March 2020 and June 2021 will remain valid until 31 December 2022.
“New business licences or permits that are issued from 1 July will also be valid until 31 December 2022, and no license fee will be payable. This will provide some relief to small businesses.”
The National Liquor Traders had written to the president seeking a two-year moratorium on liquor licence renewals.
Among the restrictions that remain in place include the curfew, limits on social, political and religious gatherings, as well as the alcohol sales ban.
“We know that restrictions on alcohol sales reduce the number of admissions at hospitals and emergency rooms with alcohol-related trauma, such as motor vehicle accidents and interpersonal violence,” said Ramaphosa. “Reducing alcohol harm frees up much-needed capacity in our health facilities to deal with Covid-19 cases. Alcohol abuse is also associated with gatherings and non-adherence to public health regulations.”
However, adjustments to the restrictions have been made for restaurants and eateries – which will be able to operate while observing strict health protocols. Venues such as gyms and fitness centres may also open. Activities such as agricultural livestock and game auctions will also be allowed – subject to certain conditions, Ramaphosa said.
In a statement following Ramaphosa’s address, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) called for the processing of TERS relief to be expedited, as workers are struggling to feed their families.
Cosatu welcomed the lessening of restrictions for restaurants. “This will provide the much-needed relief for thousands of workers and businesses that are currently struggling to survive under these difficult circumstances,” said Cosatu’s national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.
Cosatu, however, raised concerns that the R350 social relief of distress grant was not extended and that there was no relief announced for sectors outside of the UIF’s scope, nor was there any tax relief announced for restricted sectors.