I have today (26 January) written to President Cyril Ramaphosa urging him to convene a special President’s coordinating council meeting as soon as possible so that some restrictions in our province can be relaxed as a matter of urgency and so that we avoid an economic disaster in the Western Cape.
This follows my letter to the minister of health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, last Tuesday, where a formal submission was made, and clear evidence in support of the changing of some restrictions was set out. Regrettably that letter has not been responded to.
Specifically, the Western Cape has requested the following changes be made urgently:
• The ban on beaches and other public spaces must be lifted in our province. Open spaces with good ventilation are safer and they do not provide a high risk. Furthermore, the festive season is over, and people are back at work;
• The curfew be changed to 11pm to 4am. The current curfew makes it impossible for restaurants to provide a dinner service and this sector is buckling as a result;
• A closing time of 10pm for establishments, which will allow for staff to get home before curfew begins;
• Alcohol sales be permitted offsite from Monday to Thursday, and not permitted on the weekend;
• Alcohol sales be permitted at wine farms on the weekend, as this is the time when most visitors come to wine farms. Such sales are critical for the survival of wine tourism in the Western Cape; and
• Onsite alcohol consumption be allowed. If restaurants cannot sell alcohol with dinner service, they will not remain profitable and will be forced to close. This will result in many job losses.
We are fast approaching a month since the adjusted alert level 3 restrictions came into effect. At the time, it was made clear by the President that these restrictions would be in place for fourteen days and thereafter reviewed considering the evidence.
28 days later, the evidence now clearly points to a different situation in our province:
• There is a sustained decline in active cases.
• There is a sustained decline in hospitalisations.
• There is a sustained decline in the test positivity rate.
• There is a sustained decline in oxygen usage.
• There is a sustained decline in healthcare worker infections.
• The reproductive number for new infections is remaining below 1.
We have also taken a number of steps to ensure that our healthcare system was capacitated at the peak, and it continues to have the capacity to provide care.
• All 200 beds at the Mitchells Plain Hospital of Hope field hospital have been commissioned. Not all of these beds have been used;
• Of the 136 additional beds that could have been brought online, should more be needed, we have only needed to bring 20 beds online because of the hospital stabilisation;
• Our additional supply of oxygen has meant that all our facilities have adequate oxygen, and one of the five tankers has been returned;
• We have sufficient PPE supplies for healthcare workers and other frontline staff; and
• We have now made offers to 529 healthcare workers to increase healthcare worker capacity and 81 have started already
At the same time, our economy – which relies heavily on tourism and hospitality - is suffering greatly.
• The first two weeks of the latest alcohol ban are estimated to have cost the Western Cape economy R1 billion. This has impacted 1 893 direct jobs in the retail sector and 905 induced and indirect jobs across the value chain resulting in 2 798 jobs being compromised;
• If the ban is to continue for a full month, which it now looks likely to do, it will end up costing the Western Cape’s economy R2 billion. This would then impact 5 596 jobs;
• Nearly 30% of restaurants surveyed have closed temporarily or permanently, based on data from the Restaurant Association of South Africa. There is an inflection point where shortened operating hours do not make business sense to operate, resulting in workers losing their jobs;
• Wine grapes represent 50.3% of the 181 233ha under production in the Western Cape, and the replacement value of these wine grapes amounts to R33.94 billion;
• The Western Cape’s Department of Agriculture estimates that 45 610 people work in the primary production side of the wine industry and it supports 228 053 people; and
• Based on our tourism multiplier model which has been used in the Western Cape’s research for many years, the continued beach ban is costing the sector over R120 million per month. Some 12.8% of the annual eight million visitors indicate beach visits as their top activity.
Minister David Maynier also revealed further worrying tourism data this week, which now indicates that the much-needed recovery that the tourism sector needed over the festive season didn’t happen.
• Almost all the top attractions in the Western Cape indicated a more than 60% drop in visitors over the peak tourism season.
• STR (2021), who provide market data on the hotel industry, report hotel occupancy levels in the Western Cape were at 32.7% in December 2020, compared to 68.1% in December 2019.
• In Cape Town, 5-star hotel occupancy levels were at 29% in December 2020, 4-star hotel accommodation at 34% and 3-star hotel occupancy at 31%.
• Similar results were reported for the Garden Route and the Cape Winelands.
• Traffic volumes have decreased by up to 27% on South Africa’s major highways, indicating a drop in domestic travel.
• The domestic terminal at Cape Town International Airport saw only 51% of the volume of travellers compared with December 2019.
• A survey by NightsBridge, conducted after the announcement of the Garden Route as a hotspot, found that one-third of guesthouses on the Garden Route had indicated at least 50% of festive season cancellations.
• The same study reported that 12.7% of bookings in the Western Cape had been cancelled.
• South Africa Tourism Survey (December 2020) found that 58% of tourism and hospitality businesses were unable to service their debts and 61% of businesses were unable to cover fixed costs in October 2020. This was before the Alert Level 3 restrictions were announced in December.
Throughout this pandemic, we have argued for getting balance right in saving both lives and jobs, and we have not hesitated to take action in getting that balance right over the last year.
The reality is that the balance is not being achieved currently and that the President needs to use the differentiated approach to help save jobs in the Western Cape and those provinces that have clearly passed their peak.
- Alan Winde is the Premier of Western Cape province in South Africa.