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Ramaphosa announces R500 billion socioeconomic rescue package

Staff Reporter

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced R500 billion extraordinary budget to address the massive socioeconomic effects of the coronavirus pandemic on South Africa.

The rescue package, which equates to 10 percent of the country’s GDP, will prioritise combating COVID-19 and cushioning millions of vulnerable South Africans who are facing hunger and social distress.

The national lockdown imposed to help curb the spread of the virus has halted most economic activity, with only essential service workers in sectors like food and healthcare allowed to operate.

“The pandemic requires an economic response that is equal to the scale of the disruption it is causing,” Ramaphosa said in a televised national address on Tuesday night.

Apart from reprioritising about R130 billion within South Africa’s current budget, the president said the government had approached global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Development Bank to help fund the package.

To successfully manage the anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases and ensure that everyone who needs treatment receives it, he said, South Africa must provide for additional expenditure on personal protective equipment for health workers, community screening, an increase in testing capacity, additional beds in field hospitals, ventilators, medicine and staffing.

“This funding will be used, in the first instance, to fund the health response to coronavirus,” Ramaphosa said.

“An amount of R20 billion will be directed to our efforts to address the pandemic.”

A further R20 billion has been set aside for municipalities for the provision of emergency water supplies, increased sanitisation of public transport and facilities and providing food and shelter for the homeless.

Ramaphosa acknowledged the challenges presented by the current lockdown saying poverty and food insecurity have deepened dramatically in the course of just a few weeks.

“To reach the most vulnerable families in the country, we have decided on a temporary six-month coronavirus grant,” he said.

“We will direct R50 billion towards relieving the plight of those who are most desperately affected by the coronavirus.”

This means child support grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R300 in May and from June to October they will receive an additional R500 each month.

All other social grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R250 per month for the next six months.

In addition, a special COVID-19 distress grant of R350 a month will for the next six months be paid to individuals who are currently unemployed and do not receive any other form of social grant or payment.

Ramaphosa said R100 billion would also be spent on trying to secure jobs.

“Despite several interventions to deal with extremely high unemployment . . . these are not enough. The coronavirus will lead to many people losing their jobs. An additional R100 billion will be set aside for protection of jobs, and to create jobs,” he said.

The president said South Africa’s lockdown, which is set to continue until May 1, was “absolutely necessary” to save tens of thousands of lives.

“If we end the lockdown too soon or too abruptly, we risk a massive and uncontrollable resurgence of the disease,” he said, adding the loosening of the lockdown will take a “risk-adjusted approach.

He said he will address the nation on Thursday with details.

“We will therefore follow a phased approach, guided by the best available scientific evidence, to gradually lift the restrictions on economic activity,” Ramaphosa said.

“We remain firm in our resolve to contain the transmission of the virus.”

South Africa has the most confirmed virus cases in Africa with 3 465.

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