Coronavirus a severe threat, jobs to be affected - Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation from the Union Buildings in an unprecedented Sunday evening briefing hours after Cabinet met to discuss South Africa's COVID-19 plan.

FILE: President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN

JOHANNESBURG/CAPE TOWN – President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday said the coronavirus in South Africa constituted a grave emergency far worse than experienced over the last century, which would have a lasting impact on the economy.

There are now at least 61 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country just a week after a KwaZulu-Natal man became the first person on home soil to test positive.

South Africa has declared a national state of disaster to contain the coronavirus with President Ramaphosa announcing a raft of measures aimed at containing the outbreak.

In his newsletter released on Monday morning, the president said the outbreak was a "threat to our people, to our society and to our economy".

Ramaphosa also addressed the nation from the Union Buildings in an unprecedented Sunday evening briefing only hours after Cabinet met to discuss South Africa's COVID-19 plan.

He said government would now work on a national response to the economy, which would include a form of a stimulus package to try and curb the impact.

Although there is not much information on how long the travel bans, restrictions and other limitations might last in order to be effective, one thing is clear: Ramaphosa said the impact of the disease on the country would be lasting.

"In the last few weeks, we have seen a dramatic decline in economic activity in our major trading partners, a sudden drop in international tourism and severe instability across all global markets."

He anticipated effects of the decline in exports and tourist arrivals will be exacerbated by both an increase in infections and the measures we’re required to take to contain the spread of the disease.

Ramaphosa said with companies now taking on the impact of limited movement and contact of workers, jobs would most likely be cut.

“This will have a potentially severe impact on production, the viability of businesses, job retention and job creation. Cabinet is therefore in the process of finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate the expected impact of COVID-19 on our economy. This package, which will consist of various fiscal and other measures, will be concluded following consultation with business, labour and other relevant institutions.”

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VULNERABLE ECONOMY

Economists are warning about the extreme effect COVID-19 will have on an already vulnerable economy.

While the number of confirmed cases in South Africa is relatively low compared to other countries, the knock-on effect on the nation’s economy of the global virus scare is likely to be profound.

There will be a briefing on Monday morning in Pretoria at 10 am by various ministers including from the home affairs and international relations departments.

The global spread of COVID-19 and the general advice to socially distance yourself to avoid contracting and spreading the virus have already led to several major event cancellations.

Over the weekend, the Two Oceans Marathon was cancelled and before that, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival was put on hold.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s head of economics Maarten van Doesburgh said it was not just the events that suffered but all the sectors that stood to benefit from them.

“It really has a ripple effect right through the economy - the entertainment sector, restaurants…”

Nedbank chief economist Nicky Weimar said in countries with high infection rates, the loss of income caused by containment measures, fear of contagion and increasing uncertainty would hurt consumer confidence and reduce spending; and South Africa would be spared.

“We’ll be hit in mining, in manufacturing… we are already literally reeling in the airline industry, in the shipping industry, in the cruise liner industry and our tourism industry will suffer. Over 40% of our overseas tourists actually come from Europe.”

The knock-on effects from COVID-19 are a shock the South African economy cannot afford; it officially tipped into recession last quarter after growing at less than 1% last year.

To track the latest developments around the coronavirus both in South Africa and abroad, click on this live status report from Strategix.