Strange Covid-19 lockdown rules: CR backs NDZ, business figure slams govt; 5G goes live in SA; Absa R6bn relief

By Jackie Cameron

  • President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended strict and strange lockdown rules imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus as citizens grow increasingly irked over seemingly illogical restrictions. South Africa instituted one of the world’s most severe lockdowns from March 26. Rules were eased this month, but bans on the sale of alcohol, tobacco, books and many other products have remained. In addition, night-time curfew has been imposed and outdoor exercise has been restricted to a three-hour window. Many of the measures have sparked widespread criticism of the government.
  • As of Monday this week, more than 130 people had died of Covid-19 since the start of the year in South Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended the strict lockdown and all its rules, saying that while the lockdown has been very successful in helping contain the disease’s spread, the danger hasn’t passed and the rules need to be eased gradually, Ramaphosa said. “Every regulation we have put in place has been carefully considered,” he is quoted as saying. “It is better to err on the side of caution than to pay the devastating price of a lapse in judgment in future,” the President is quoted by Bloomberg as saying. While there were differences of opinion within the cabinet over some of the regulations, all decisions were taken collectively and it was wrong to suggest that ministers were doing and saying whatever they wanted, the president said.
  • Business entrepreneur Mike Abel joins media personality Gareth Cliff in penning an open letter to the president to re-think the finer details of the Covid-19 containment lockdown. In an open letter to the President, Mike Abel, co-founder and CEO of the M&C Saatchi Group of companies operating in Africa sums up the mood. He says of the lockdown: ‘We went into it with the agreement of giving our health services time to prepare. No more. No less… And yet here we find ourselves, somehow being treated like naughty children.”  You can read their open letters, on BizNews.com.
  • Absa has granted nearly R6bn in Covid-19 virus relief to about 375,000 account holders. The measures are part of a range of options Absa is offering customers on a case-by-case basis. South African banks are also in the process of providing loans through a government-backed program to small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • Mobile operator Vodacom Group said on Monday it has switched on Africa’s first live 5G mobile network in three cities in South Africa: Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg. Reuters reports that Vodacom was recently assigned temporary additional spectrum by South Africa’s telecoms regulator for the duration of a national state of disaster to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which has been used to fast track its 5G launch, the company said in a statement. Fifth Generation (5G) spectrum is largely unassigned in South Africa, says the news service, adding that the regulator will auction additional spectrum, including the highly sought after 5G spectrum, by the end of the year. Vodacom expects to expand its 5G rollout as more 5G enabled smartphones, Wi-Fi and fixed wireless access routers become available.
  • Bonds gained and the rand rallied, after South Africa’s exit from a major global fixed-income index was finalised, as a key risk disappeared. The country’s debt was officially ejected from the FTSE World Government Bond Index – which tracks investment-grade debt and is followed by $3trn of funds – on April 30 after South Africa received a full deck of junk ratings following a cut by Moody’s Investors Service in March, reports Reuters.
  • The rand strengthened following the release of a better-than-expected Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) number. Business activity in South Africa’s manufacturing industry fell to a record low in April, when a nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic brought output to a near standstill. But, says Bloomberg, the rand strengthened as the headline PMI number exceeded economists’ median estimate. The full PMI details are expected later this week.
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