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COVID-19 quick insights from 21 April

President Cyril Ramaphosa announces R500 billion economic package to help struggling South Africans and to preserve the economy.

Picture: 123rf.com

CAPE TOWN - President Cyril Ramaphosa announces R500 billion economic package to help struggling South Africans and to preserve the economy.

DAY 26

BY THE NUMBERS

• Total number of positive cases since COVID-19 reached our shores now stands at 3,465 – that’s 165 new cases confirmed since Monday.

• 126,937 patients have been tested – 5,427 in the last 24 hours.

• More than 2 million people have been screened nationwide - 15,000 of whom have been referred for testing.

• Globally, more than 2.5 million confirmed cases have been recorded since the virus first emerged in Wuhan, more than 172,000 people have died.

THE PRESIDENT: THE HEADLINES

• Massive economic package amounting to 10% of GDP – R500 billion.

• Emphasis on getting the most vulnerable a little cash to get by, feeding those who are hungry, protecting jobs and preserving the economy.

• No sudden return to normal – rather a phased approach based on the science of the pandemic’s spread that will see the economy and normal life spin up gradually.

• Another address to explain how we come out of this on Thursday.

WATCH: Ramaphosa announces R500bn economic stimulus package

THE BIG ECONOMIC PLAN

• Three phases – the first began in March with a price tag of roughly R41 billion; the second amounts to R500 billion, which will now be ploughed into trying to stabilise the economy, protecting jobs, and addressing the decline in supply and demand; the third is the economic strategy to drive the recovery of the economy.

• Phase two is funded by re-prioritising around R130 billion that's already in the national budget. The rest of the funds will be raised locally through vehicles like the UIF, and from abroad - from finance
institutions, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, BRICS New Development Bank and the African Development Bank.

• R20 billion goes straight to health to address and contain the pandemic and treat the sick.

• R20 billion goes to municipalities to help provide emergency water supply, better sanitisation of public transport and providing food and shelter for the homeless. (President noted demands on municipalities are now higher, and revenues have declined because of the shutdown).

HELP FOR THE POOREST

• R50 billion goes to a temporary 6-month coronavirus grant, meaning that child support grant beneficiaries get an extra R300 in May and extra R500 between June and October. And all other grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R250 per month for the next six months.

• A special COVID-19 social relief of distress grant of R350 a month for the next 6 months will be paid to those who are currently unemployed and don’t get any other social grant or UIF payment. (Requirements to follow from Social Development Department.)

BUSINESS SUPPORT AND HELP FOR THE EMPLOYED

• An additional R100 billion will be set aside for protection of jobs and to create jobs.

• By the end of Tuesday, the UIF’s special COVID-19 benefit has paid out R1.6-billion, assisting over 37,000 companies and 600,00 workers.

• R40 billion has been set aside for income support payments for workers whose employers are not able to pay their wages.

• R100m in assistance already extended to SMMEs, spaza shop owners and other informal businesses. (Loans, grants and debt restructuring.)

• An extra R2 billion will be put towards assisting SMEs - including spaza shop owners.

• IDC has approved finance to the tune of R162 million to buy or make personal protective equipment.

• A R200 billion loan guarantee scheme in partnership with the major banks, the National Treasury and the South African Reserve Bank to help enterprises with operational costs, such as salaries, rent and the payment of suppliers.

• Companies with a turnover of less than R300 million a year will be eligible – will hopefully support 700,000 firms and more than 3 million employees through this difficult period.

HELP FROM THE TAXMAN

• R70 billion in total relief.

• 4-month Payment holiday for skills development levy contributions.

• Fast-tracked VAT refunds.

• Filing and payment of first carbon tax delayed for 3 months.

• Tax deferral turnover threshold increased to R100 million a year.

• 35% of PAYE payment can now be deferred.

• Businesses with a turnover of more than R100 million a year can apply directly to SARS for deferrals of their tax payments - will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

• No penalties for late payments if they can show they have been materially negatively impacted in this period.

• Those taxpayers who donate to the Solidarity Fund can claim an extra 10% as a deduction.

KEEPING PEOPLE FED

• Acknowledgement from the president that food provision to the most vulnerable is inefficient and has serious holes.

• Sassa now has a technological solution to allow for food assistance through vouchers and cash transfers, which should roll out within days.

• 250,000 food parcels to be distributed across the country over the next two weeks.

PARLIAMENT GETS BACK TO WORK

• So MPs got back to work on Tuesday, kinda. Three portfolio committee meetings were scheduled – covering Basic Education; Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation and Cogta.

• But as with so many businesses at the beginning of the lockdown there was a lot of to’ing and fro’ing and technical issues, bad sound, too much sound, the muting of mics or even worse the not muting of mics.

• We got a look into MPs home offices, the closets behind them, the views out of windows.

• With technical issues in mind – here’s what we could glean from Tuesday’s briefings.

• Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation reported back on what they’ve done so far to ensure as many people as possible have access to water to wash their hands – it's actually quite a lot - they’ve delivered 14,737 tanks to water-scarce areas around the country (total allocation is 18,875). However, only 7,689 tanks have actually been installed. Installation is largely a municipal or local government function, so there were a lot of questions about whether the co-ordination of interventions across the three layers of government has been adequate.

• They also gave some details about the de-densification project they are fast-tracking in an attempt to foster social distancing.

• Some fairly advanced plans for the community of Sjwetla in Alexandra – they sit right on the flood plain of the river in very close quarters – government has now identified a tract of land for those living there to move to which will be adequately blocked and provisioned.

• They also presented plans for a kind of ablution block, with showers and sinks, made out of an old shipping container.

• In the COGTA briefing, Minister Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma attempted to explain why the regulations have changed so frequently – basically for the obvious reason – we’ve never done anything like this before, so things need to move and change as regulators realise what’s working and what isn’t.

• What isn’t, at the moment, is the provision of food relief to those who are struggling.

• The Higher Education Minister briefed on different scenarios of phasing in a return to the academic year – both for universities and TVET colleges.

• They're looking at online and remote learning and teaching for university and TVET college students from 4 May 2020, with a phasing in of contact learning and teaching when it’s safe for students to return to campus.

• But as with our entire lives at the moment, everything depends on the curve.

• Obviously, in a deeply unequal society, online learning is easier said than done – lots was said about a need to ensure no student is left behind and that the whole sector pulls together to support students who need help or extra support.

• Minister also undertook to go back to institutions for more granular and detailed plans on how they are planning to rescue the 2020 academic year.

THE WESTERN CAPE: GRANULAR INSIGHTS

• A technical briefing from the premier and the provinces head of Health, Dr Kieth Cloete.

• Modelling based on the data they have suggests virus will peak in September.

• At that stage, they expect they will need between 6,000 and 7,000 hospital beds - both acute and intensive care beds.

• There is a current shortfall in beds, but they are addressing that by provisioning for 1,300 extra beds in so-called field hospitals (intermediate care facilities that will treat mild cases); they’re also creating extra capacity for more than 1,600 beds in the sector for acute care (patients who need more care).

• The issue of concern right now, in terms of planning for the peak, is the shortfall in ICU spaces. Public sector can stretch to 150 extra beds, but they will need 750 beds at the peak.

• With the advent of mass screening and testing, they’ve been better able to track their “bushfires” - and they are finding those are centred on supermarkets, factories, anywhere where people gather. Those bushfires are then transported, to create bushfires in communities, as people take the infection home with them.

• PPEs – adequate stock of PPEs at present, but with global competition for PPEs, it could prove difficult – as an example, they have 70,000 N95 masks in stock but another 2,9 million on order.

• We currently have 432 ventilators in the public sector in the province, 100 more on order.

GLOBALLY

• US President Donald Trump has issued an executive order banning immigration to the United States. Senior administration officials say it will last 30 to 90 days with the chance of renewal.

• Spain will allow children to go outside for walks from next weekend in a loosening of the country's strict coronavirus lockdown.

• Austrian authorities are preparing to lift the ban on three of the nation’s top ski resorts this week.

• And Italy is likely to start lifting its hard lockdown from 4 May but in a cautious and staged fashion.