National lockdown could be extended in one scenario – report

Photo for illustration. A sign on the N1 South indicates that South Africa is in lock down, Johannesburg, 30 March 2020, on day four of the 21 day national lockdown, following President Cyril Ramaphosa's declaration of a National Disaster. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

In the projections of a US consultancy firm, it reports that South Africa’s Covid-19 cases may only peak by June, making it feasible that lockdown would end in August. 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with comment from BCG below.

While South Africa approaches the middle of its 21-day lockdown, it has emerged that lockdown may have to be extended by between two and four months. 

According to Rapport, these projections were made by US business consultancy firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG). 

In one of BCG’s projections, it reports that South Africa’s Covid-19 cases may only peak by June, making it feasible that lockdown would end in August. 

BCG itself has advised the public, though, that this is just one scenario.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the company said: “A BCG working document from more than a week ago illustrating one scenario of how the Covid-19 virus might progress has been circulating publicly without context or authorisation from BCG. As clearly stated throughout the document, the presentation is not intended to constitute or substitute for medical or safety advice. Nor should it be seen as a formal endorsement of or recommendation for a particular response. The scenario and projections contained in the document vary by 100-1,000x, and reflect one range of possible outcomes, with clear recognition of how things may unfold differently.

“This document does not represent an official BCG view and has not been authorised for public or media release by BCG. Press outlets citing the document have subsequently run corrections to clarify the above.

“In supporting our clients in public and private sectors, BCG regularly does scenario planning for a range of issues. We analyse internally and externally gathered data to formulate these scenarios, and the data requires daily updates, given how fast the situation is changing.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis. BCG continues to monitor the spread of Covid-19, and our priority remains the health and wellbeing of our people, our clients, and the communities where we operate. We are committed to doing our part to contribute – and will stand by and support our private and public sector clients throughout this crisis.”

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize hinted at this earlier this week, saying the actual number of South Africa’s positive Covid-19 cases could be much higher than the current 1,585, with a death toll of nine, as at 4 April. 

On Friday, in the Western Cape, Mkhize referred to an earlier warning that the seemingly low rates of infection were the “calm before the storm”. He said there was scientific evidence showing that the number of internal transmissions was much higher than initially thought.

“This is the calm before the storm I was talking about.”

And, with President Cyril Ramaphosa and national government largely following the example set by China during its quarantine protocols, the lockdown is very likely to be extended. 

To slow the spread of the virus, the central Chinese province of Hubei, which reported its first cases late in December, was in lockdown for two months to fight what President Xi Jinping dubbed a “people’s war”. 

In an earlier report, released on 26 March, BCG said that fighting the novel coronavirus in Africa would be far different from the rest of the world, due to the continent’s unique challenges. 

It explained that although Africa has a younger population that the rest of the world, many citizens face health challenges such as HIV, TB and malnutrition, as well as social inequality, which makes the population more vulnerable to illnesses. 

Although younger populations could provide a buffer for Covid-19 death rates, as the virus is especially deadly to people over 60 years of age, the continent’s subpar healthcare systems may prove even more deadly.

Africa is therefore difficult to predict, but considering current models based on other countries slowly recovering from the pandemic, in addition to Africa’s challenges, the continent may still have a long way to go in combating the novel coronavirus. 

Economies are likely to suffer in the long-term, especially South Africa’s retail and consumer-focused businesses. 

University of Stellenbosch business school guest lecturer Jason Hamilton said the full effects of the virus would “ripple through all sectors and industries – at least until the end of this year, in an economic cycle like no other we have ever seen”.

Hamilton predicted that South Africa’s GDP would retract by between 2.5% and 3.5%, but said some models estimated a dip of up to 5%. 

This will not be helped by the country’s economy being downgraded by Moody’s and Fitch in the space of a few days. 

Both downgrades have resulted in a 40% weaker rand since the same time last year, and the currency is expected to slide to R20 per US dollar soon. 

And, South Africa is only expected to recover by a moderate 1.7% by 2021. 

BCG strongly suggested that “quick, aggressive action” be taken to curb the pandemic, in a bid for it not to destroy the progress Africa has made over the past few decades.

(Compiled by Nica Richards. Background reporting by Brian Sokutu, AFP and News24 Wire)

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