LETTER TO THE EDITOR | It is possible to keep the economy open and still prevent spread of Covid-19

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An overview of Knysna and the lagoon on the Garden Route. (Photo by: Peter Titmuss/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
An overview of Knysna and the lagoon on the Garden Route. (Photo by: Peter Titmuss/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Geordin Hill-Lewis writes in response to Adriaan Basson's column, saying he was wrong in suggesting there was a trade off between protecting people from Covid-19 and protecting the economy. 

In the course of my work as a constituency Member of Parliament allocated to George, I often have the pleasure of meeting enormously impressive entrepreneurs, whose businesses form the backbone of the Garden Route economy.

Just this week, I met a young hotelier, let's call him Johan, who runs a bed and breakfast with nine rooms in George. Johan's successful business employs four people – a cook, two cleaning staff, and a general worker – all earning well above minimum wage. All through the lockdown, Johan paid his team their full salaries, with the help of TERS. Since TERS ran out, he's exhausted his accumulated savings to make sure everyone gets paid.

This business, like hundreds of other businesses along the Garden Route, is completely depending on a reasonably good December holiday season to survive. Without it, Johan will have no choice but to close his business and lay off his staff in January, and hope to reopen it at some point in the future when travellers return.

This story is repeated hundreds of times in small businesses in George, Mossel Bay, Plett, Knysna and every other tourist town along the Garden Route, and for the thousands of people they employ.

That is why Adriaan Basson is wrong to suggest there is a trade off between protecting people from Covid and protecting the economy ("Economy trumps health as dejected Ramaphosa 'saves' Garden Route tourism"). It is entirely possible to keep the economy open, keep people in their jobs, and still prevent the spread of Covid-19, through the responsible observation of proper health protections. It is not either or. It is both.

What Western Cape Premier Alan Winde did was not to "convince Ramaphosa…that…economic devastation…outweighs the health risk". What he did was convince the president that we can and must slow the spread of Covid, and save tens of thousands of jobs across the Garden Route. This approach trusts people with the agency and personal responsibility to protect themselves and their loved ones, without removing their ability to provide for their families.

I am very pleased that the premier succeeded in persuading the president of this view. The tourism economy is "open for business", and holidaymakers need not cancel any travel plans.

Christmas in the Garden Route is not cancelled! Be safe, wash your hands, mask up, and enjoy a wonderful holiday in South Africa's most beautiful region.

- Geordin Hill-Lewis is a DA MP for George

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