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Mass job losses on cards for construction and property industries who have to wait for Level 2 to open fully

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Property players were left disappointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation this week, saying they had hoped he would open more economic sectors.

This includes the real estate sector which Yael Geffen, chief executive of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty says is a key driver of the country’s macro economy.

She says more than 100 000 households depend on the real estate sector to survive.

“They cannot wait for the Cabinet to ‘um and ah’ for another day, never mind another week. We need to get back to work now.”

Geffen adds: “It’s ironic that Ramaphosa made so much of upholding citizens’ rights in his speech because by keeping sectors such as ours closed, he’s denying us the most basic rights of all – to house and feed families.”

The country should also brace itself for a second wave of construction industry job losses, another sector that has not been ipened, says David Sedgwick, managing director of Horizon Capital. He says the address was a “great disappointment” and true tragedy”.

“It has certainly left the nation with more confusion than ever before. The only clarity it provided is a seeming confirmation that major metropoles will remain in Level 4 indefinitely. 

“Despite the President’s statement that government’s aim is to communicate transparently, its actions to date have shown differently, leaving one to speculate, feeding conspiracies and for business to draw their own inferences.”

One of these inferences that Sedgwick says can be drawn from last night’s speech is that metropolitan municipalities are going to remain under a strict form of lock down until “well after September”.

“The five lockdown levels depend on the state of readiness and rate of infection. Level 5, the strictest form, was implemented to prepare the healthcare system and ready the country for the peak. After seven weeks, we are about as prepared and ready as we are going to get as the President noted in his speech, leaving the only other variable in their decision ‘toolbox’, the ‘rate of infection’.

“It is without a doubt that the ‘rate of infection’ is going to increase over the coming weeks and months until we peak – this is the very nature of such a virus and it cannot be stopped without a vaccine or total isolation.”

The uncertainty as to when lockdown levels will be loosened in major metropoles – which could only be after October/November, will lead to a further wave of mass job losses over the coming weeks, Sedgwick says, adding that many industries, such as construction, have been “hanging on by their nails” up to this point. A “sharp increase” in the number of business rescue and liquidation applications is therefore expected. 

“The construction industry is a mass employer responsible for supporting millions of peoples and households. The industry as a collective is one that in strictly regulated from a health and safety perspective and submitted many comprehensive proposals on how workers could return to work safety under Level 4. 

“These proposals incorporated private transportation of workers, two-metre social distancing rules imposed, adequate PPE provided, personal hygiene and hand sanitising education and enforcement to name a few. As a matter of fact, the health and safety conditions on constructions sites are far better in many instances than where the majority of these very workers and their families live. Instead they are subjected to a dangerous lockdown and unable to support their families.”

While he understands that there is a balancing act between the health and well-being of the nation, and the economy, Sedgwick says this balance has already evaporated. 

“We have the safety protocols and procedures. We are ready to fire-up the industry and to do it safely. Now let business and industry take government into its confidence, Mr President.”

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