The Economics of COVID-19 in South Africa: Early Impressions
South Africa’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have been relatively rapid and comprehensive by international standards. Around passing 100 confirmed cases, a National state of Disaster was declared, and the country was placed under a complete national lockdown for five weeks before transitioning to a five-level alert system from May. The lockdown was extremely stringent and brought most economic activity across the country to a halt. A comparison of trajectories of cumulative confirmed cases with comparator countries, in combination with available epidemiological evidence, suggests that the introduction of the lockdown in South Africa, combined with effective contact tracing and the proactive deployment of community healthcare workers to help screen, test, diagnose, and isolate, appears to have delayed the spread of the disease during these early stages of the pandemic. This has allowed the South African government time to prepare for an inevitable exponential rise in infections once lockdown regulations ease. We focus on several areas of key concern, including the expected macroeconomic impact of the pandemic, current monetary and fiscal policy response, and an evaluation of current interventions. We also construct and present an analytical instrument which can be used to guide post-lockdown transition policy using detailed occupation and industry data to see how public health and economic concerns can be balanced.