The department of trade and industry was focusing on safely reopening industry and repairing the damage the shutdown did to the economy, director-general Lionel October said on Friday.
“The lockdown has achieved its objectives, it has flattened the curve, it has bought us five, six weeks of time for us to prepare for this, and all the provinces have put in place active measures to be able to deal with the increase in the infection rate,” October told Parliament’s portfolio committee on trade and industry.
“Of course it has had a devastating impact on the economy and our job now remains to ensure that we have a proper easing of the lockdown, move to level 3, move to level 2 and in that period all the health and safety measures are in place,” he said.
He said the department was acutely mindful of warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) to nations that a rushed return to full economic activity could see a second wave of infections of the novel coronavirus.
October also stressed that though the government believed the lockdown was successful in lowering the rate of transmission, South Africa would not escape the full impact of the virus that has claimed more than 332,000 lives globally.
“There is now way we are going to be stopping the epidemic.”
October said the latest interest rate cut by the South African Reserve Bank was among the measures taken to minimise the impact of the shut down of the economy since late March on the gross domestic product (GDP).
The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) on Thursday cut the repo rate by another 50 basis points to 3.75 percent.
But October stressed to a great extent, South Africa’s recovery will be influenced by that of its big trade partners, including the United Kingdom and Germany, as they now began easing Covid-19 restrictions. Others, such as Brazil, were only now entering the critical stages of the pandemic.
“We are highly exposed to international trade,” he said.
October was briefing the committee in the absence of Minister Ebrahim Patel, who is ill.
In response to criticism from the opposition to government’s decision to use empowerment criteria in extending crisis relief to companies, he said it was in line with standard government policy.
“We see no tension between these two imperatives, between repairing an economy and transformation because we have embedded BBEE into our programmes.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa has suggested most of South Africa could move to level 3 lockdown restrictions at the end of May.