Prof Altman Says SA Needs to Prioritise to Balance COVID-19 and the Economy

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In an article for the Daily Maverick, Prof. Miriam Altman highlighted the challenges South Africa faces in trying to prioritise the health sector and the economy, she suggests three priorities to manage a balance between the two.

Altman says that keeping the economy open would be damaging if the rate of infections increases but simultaneously keeping the economy under lockdown will have dire effects. These include a lower Gross Domestic Product (GDP), higher unemployment rates and the closing down of many businesses.

She says the first priority should be the implementation of risk-adjusted strategies. Altman says it is important that the country is able to practise them and can adjust them easily to deal with changes in information or risk. These include:

  • Effective collection and provision of information;
  • Testing that offers results within 24 hours;
  • Finding and contacting 80% of an infected person’s contacts;
  • Isolating those who are infected or who are at risk; all combined with
  • Physical distancing, the widespread wearing of masks and disinfection.

The Professor says the lockdown seemed to be effective in the suburbs, this was not the case for townships and informal settlements. This was due to the lack of resources and the resources available is often shared among community members. Therefore the second priority should be to have strategies that would be effective in various conditions.

According to Altman, these two priorities should be at the forefront of the Covid-19 response as neither a lockdown nor reopening the economy would be helpful.

The final priority Altman suggests is to stimulate the economy. It is more beneficial to the country to receive tax from the companies, than having to give aid when they need to be rescued. Companies must ensure that they have health and safety measures in place and there must be monitoring of how they are implemented. Altman says that informal businesses could be prosperous during this time and they should be allowed to operate, given health guidelines and the necessary support to keep operating. She says people who were retrenched during the lockdown should be boosted into vacancies to prevent long-term unemployment.

Altman concludes by saying that if South Africa prioritises these three, there is a sustainable future ahead for the country.

Miriam Altman is a Professor of Practice 4IR at the University of Johannesburg and is the convener of the Covid-19 Economists Group which is identifying solutions aimed at mitigating the social and economic effects of the pandemic.