Australia faces ‘sobering’ future economy due to coronavirus

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s treasurer said Tuesday the country faces a “sobering” economic outlook due to the effects of the coronavirus and will have its largest-ever deficit when a revised budget is released in October.
The 2020-21 federal budget was due to be released Tuesday. But the government was forced to delay it until it assesses the full economic cost of the coronavirus.
“Overall, the economic data has been sobering,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Parliament on the first day of a scheduled three-day sitting this week. He said he expects gross domestic product (GDP) will fall more than 10% in the June quarter, representing the biggest fall on record.
Frydenberg did not say what the government’s deficit will be. The financial year in Australia ends on June 30.
Frydenberg had a lengthy coughing spell during his speech to Parliament, forcing him to stop several times to takes sips of water. A test showed he did not have the coronavirus.
“Yesterday I was tested for COVID-19 out of an abundance of caution on the advice of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer,” Frydenberg said in a Twitter post Wednesday. “This morning I received the result of the test which was negative.”
Other lawmakers present during Frydenberg’s speech appeared to be observing social distancing. The most prominent Australian lawmaker known to have had the virus is Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who has recovered.
The federal government allocated more than 230 billion Australian dollars ($148 billion) in measures to offset the virus impact, more than half of that aimed at helping eligible employers keep their businesses afloat.
“Given the level of uncertainty, our economic measures provide more than financial relief,” Fydenberg said. “They provide a psychological boost as well.”
Earlier, Frydenberg had forecast unemployment would double to 10%.
Australia, with an economy about the size of Spain’s, is thought to have entered its first recession in three decades this year.
But Frydenberg said the additional support for employers and employees during the pandemic being sought by the opposition was unlikely to happen.
“Australians know there is no money tree,” Frydenberg said. “What we borrow today, we must repay in the future. Temporary and targeted, the new spending measures were not designed to go forever but to build a bridge to the recovery phase.”
Frydenberg said the underlying cash deficit at the end of March was A$22.4 billion ($14.4 billion), almost A$10 billion ($6.5. billion) higher than the government forecast in December’s midyear budget update.
When Frydenberg released the 2019-20 budget in April 2019, he said Australia was “back in the black,” with a A$7.1 billion ($4.6 billion) surplus forecast this financial year. But the government revised its surplus forecast to A$5 billion ($3.2 billion) in December — before devastating wildfires and the coronavirus hit the Australian economy.

Border control: SA’s biggest foreign-policy failure since democracy

The latest experiment in border management should hardly surprise us. But it’s another depressing sign that SA is nowhere close to really dealing with how to properly manage the movement of people between SA and Zimbabwe
Blowing R37m on rolls of razor wire for a new border fence between SA and Zimbabwe is in many ways a metaphor for how SA has dealt with the implosion of its northern neighbour over the years: a knee-jerk, haphazard job that has cost us dearly.
The latest experiment in border management should hardly surprise us. But it’s another depressing sign that SA is nowhere close to really dealing with its biggest foreign-policy failure since democracy: how to properly manage the movement of people between our two states. Ostensibly to prevent the spread of Covid-19, closing the borders has simply worsened a desperate situation for Zimbabweans who rely on being able to travel to and from SA to buy food at prices that aren’t extortionate.
The fence itself, built in recent weeks, has done little to halt determined border hoppers and smugglers. We don’t know how many Zimbabweans work in SA — estimates vary wildly — but SA should be open to its hard-working neighbours in a way that benefits both countries. Key to that is strong, fair, border management.
It would surely give the tax authorities a better handle on what it can expect from economically active citizens. And it might just help diminish the xenophobia that periodically rips through SA communities. What’s clear is that a porous R37m fence isn’t the answer.

Desperate Lesotho citizens jump borders to get home

Desperate citizens stranded in South Africa have taken to jumping the Lesotho border risking their lives to get home.
Reports from Lesotho claim that hundreds of Basotho are resorting to perilous and illegal border crossings having been stranded in locked down South Africa.
All of South Africa’s ports of entry remain closed to travellers with only goods being traded and medical emergencies granting permission to enter or exit the country.
Desperate Lesotho citizens jump border
Lesotho is entirely encompassed by South Africa, meaning the mountain kingdom has been sealed off from the outside world.
Widespread testing has not been possible inside the country but they did institute a lockdown which remains in effect.
Lesotho citizens working in South Africa have been left stranded in the country, but the opening of the interprovincial blockade saw a rush of border jumpers attempting dangerous border jump to return to their homes and families.
Many of the border jumpers reportedly made their way to the Eastern Cape from the winelands and crossed into Lesotho by ferrying over the Tele River into Lesotho border town Quthing.
Still, others are entering through the Free State town of Wepener, where the border is not reinforced by significant natural barriers.
Last week South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi announced a mass repatriation of citizens of Lesotho, Zimbabwe and other neighbouring states. Some of that large group were in South Africa illegally and were being held at the Lindela Repatriation Centre near Krugersdorp.
There were 95 Lesotho citizens in the group of more than 700 repatriated from Lindela with the majority headed to Zimbabwe.
The Lesotho border jumpers say they are desperate to return home as they can no longer support themselves in South Africa.
Residents of Lesotho who are in South Africa legally, may remain in South Africa without applying for additional paperwork until at least 15 June 2020 according to a Home Affairs announcement made in April.
Citizens of neighbouring states may not simply leave SA
“During the lockdown, except for cases relating to expatriation initiated by another state, all foreign nationals who are currently in South Africa may not depart,” the department of home affairs notified in April.
The department of home affairs have barred foreign nationals who are in South Africa from leaving the country outside of official repatriation and deportation efforts.
After receiving 95 citizens repatriated from South Africa this week, it is unclear if the government of Lesotho has any intention of engaging in further efforts to bring any of its people in South Africa and neighbouring states back to their home.

Zimbabwe returnees top 3 000

THE country received 527 citizens returning from South Africa yesterday through the Beitbridge Border Post bringing the number of returnees from various countries to 3 134 since the country and other regional countries initiated national lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The country has put in place measures to ensure that returnees are immediately quarantined as part of measures to control the spread of the virus. To ease crowding at the entry points, the returnees are transported and sheltered at quarantine centres in their home provinces.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Deputy Minister of Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare, Lovemore Matuke said the returnees came by road while some flew in. The country started the national lockdown on 30 March.

“We have since the start of the lockdown received up to 3 134 returnees into the country who have voluntarily come while some were deported. The returnees have been coming from South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique through the road while some coming from other countries have been using their arrival destination as the airport,” said Deputy Minister Matuke.

South Africa’s Home Affairs Department yesterday deported 527 Zimbabweans via Beitbridge Border Post, most of whom had violated immigration laws while others had finished serving varied jail terms.

That brings to 1 004 the number of people who have officially been repatriated from the neighbouring country in the last seven days. Among those deported yesterday were 129 ex-convicts and a majority of the migrants were men with only seven being women. The returnees arrived in 11 buses. This time the repatriation was funded by the South African government with the Zimbabwe Embassy providing logistics.

Under normal circumstances the deportees would find their transport from Lindela Repatriation Centre in Johannesburg to Beitbridge and pay R550. It is understood that the South African government spends at least R100 for the upkeep of each migrant under detention at Lindela daily.

Zimbabwe’s Consul-General to South Africa, Mrs Melody Chaurura said; “We identified 476 people on Friday while the rest of the group had gone through the same process prior to the implementation of the lock down.” Upon arrival in the country, the migrants were taken to the National Social Security Authority Hotel, which is being used as a quarantine and isolation centre for the returnees in Beitbridge.

The Director of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Mr Totamirepi Tirivavi said the deportees were profiled, screened for Covid-19 and transported to their respective provinces for quarantining.

“Today (yesterday) we have received our citizens who were being detained at Lindela in South Africa. Upon arrival they are going to go through profiling and rapid tests. Those that would be found to be Covid-19 positive would be put into isolation while those asymptotic will be sent to Government designated quarantine centres closer to their final destinations. The buses have started arriving to transport them and the process is going on smoothly.”

He said the Beitbridge centre will remain with 150 people mainly those from Matabeleland South. The South African Home Affairs Department has also started implementing a blitz to penalise foreign immigrants who had overstayed in the neighbouring country prior to the lockdown. According to the Department of Home Affairs lockdown guidelines visitor who fail to leave South Africa during the lockdown are exempted from any form of immigration related penalties. However, those who would have overstayed are being banned from travelling to that country for periods varied from three months to a maximum of five years.

The Assistant Regional Immigration officer in charge of Beitbridge (Zimbabwe), Mr Nqobile Ncube said; “As per the operational guidelines only those who were affected by the lockdown in either Zimbabwe or South Africa will be exempted from penalties.”

Meanwhile, Midlands yesterday received 97 returnees mostly from South Africa and Botswana. Of the 75, 50 came from Botswana while 25 were from South Africa. The returnees, who were ferried by Zupco buses, were immediately put under mandatory quarantine at Gweru Polytechnic College where they would be housed for at least eight days while undergoing screening and testing for Covid-19.

Sen Mavima said the province had adequate food for the returnees while in quarantine after receiving donations from the corporate world.

Sen Mavima, on The province received 4,5 tonnes of mealie-meal from Blue Ribbon Foods as part of the 30 tonnes national donation handed over to President Mnangagwa.

Sen Mavima also received 2 000 litres of petrol, 2 000 litres of diesel, 200 litres of hand sanitisers and 500 masks from Midlands Metals that were handed over by the company’s director, Dr Staben Karimazondo. The province also received a portable ventilator from Dr Thomas Ndebele.

State bends lockdown rules to repatriate 664 illegal immigrants after riots at Lindela

Hundreds of illegal immigrants are to be sent home, despite the coronavirus lockdown, following protests at Lindela repatriation centre, which houses them before deportation.
A total of 94 people have been sent back to Lesotho, and 570 Zimbabweans will soon be on their way home
The government was forced to bend lockdown regulations and open the border to allow foreign nationals awaiting deportation to be allowed to return to their home countries.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi made the disclosure in an interview with the SABC on Thursday morning.
“I can report that at 4.30 this morning, 94 Basotho nationals were taken out of Lindela [repatriation centre]. They are en route to Maseru border post,” he said.
“This morning, the Zimbabwean embassy is arriving [at Lindela]. We have summoned them. We are going to discuss with them with the hope that before the end of the day or at most by the end of the week, we will also have sent the 570 Zimbabweans home.”
The decision to send the immigrants home during the coronavirus lockdown comes after 37 detainees at the centre, all believed to be from Lesotho, escaped at the weekend.
Motsoaledi said they has rioted prior to the escape, demanding that they be deported. They had been at the centre since the repatriation processes stopped when the coronavirus lockdown was implemented in March.
“During that riot, the security guards, who are at loggerheads with their company, started taking photos, showing this so-called overcrowding. I say ‘so-called’ because Lindela has a capacity of 4,000 and at the moment of the riot, there were only 1,574 people there.”
He labelled the escape an “inside job”.
“On Sunday, the guards tipped off [the detainees] that ‘we are going to leave early, you can do what you want’. That is the information that we got. And indeed the guards left at 2pm, claiming there was no contract with their employer that says they must leave later. That is what they are claiming, but it was the first time that they left work at 2pm.
“At 5pm, the people started climbing over the walls and escaping. It was not really a secret.”
Motsoaledi said security guards in the camera room witnessed the escape. “But because there were very few guards there, they were overpowered. The police were called in, but by that time 37 people had already left.”
The minister visited the centre on Wednesday to assess the situation. Following his departure, he said yet another riot had broken out.
“The [detainees] said they don’t want social distancing. They don’t want to be locked in the rooms. They want to mingle in the courtyards. That is when I immediately took a decision that we must do something about those nationals too,” he said.
“I went to report the matter to the command structure and we reached an agreement that we need to send the Basotho home,” he said.
There are other people from other countries at the centre, but he said home affairs had chosen to start with the Zimbabweans and Basothos as they constituted the largest number. Mozambicans will be next.
Meanwhile, the security guards who were meant to have kept guard on Sunday have been suspended by their security company.
“We can’t deal with them because we haven’t employed them, but we will certainly deal with the company,” added Motsoaledi.

Restarting economy will benefit all social classes — even chronically poor

National Income Dynamics Survey shows jobs and wages matter for category too as labour income makes up 37% of income
As SA’s lockdown continues at level 4 this is a time of open letters, appeals to, and harangues of, the government. We understand and have supported the initial lockdown. We realise SA has to strike an almost impossible balance between saving lives and livelihoods. We are sure the government is familiar with the estimates of the impact of the lockdown on economic activity and employment.
Our arguments for getting people back to work as soon as possible draw on research using the National Income Dynamics Survey. SA households can be grouped into five social classes: the chronically poor, the transient poor, the vulnerable, the middle class and the elite. What characterises the different classes are their sources of income.
The chronically poor make up 50% of households and receive more than half of their income from grants. They will be the main beneficiaries of government’s support package. Yet even for these households, jobs and wages matter. Only 30% of them have someone who is employed, but labour income makes up 37% of their income (with another 6% share from remittances).
Wages matter more than any support the government can give
Of these employees, slightly more than half work in the formal sector and a little more than a third of them have a permanent contract. For the transient poor and the vulnerable, labour income matters even more. Though their share of households with someone in employment is only just above 50%, wage income makes up two-thirds of the household income.
It is different for the middle class, who receive most of their income from labour and some investments. About 95% are employed in the formal sector with 81% on permanent contracts.
The numbers starkly show what we can intuit: few South Africans will continue to be paid while not working during lockdown, or perhaps while working from home. Wages matter more than any support the government can give. Many face the increasing possibility that their jobs will no longer exist if the opening of the economy is delayed too long.
We cannot afford to put the achievement of guaranteed safety in the workplace ahead of the resumption of normal economic activity. Where the government has taken the lead in protecting its citizens during the five-week lockdown, everyone now has to take responsibility for their own health and safety through social distancing, hand-washing, sanitising, and wearing masks, while trying to earn an income.
There are also concerns about further compliance with certain regulations of the alert level 4 from the insights of behavioural economics. Our behaviour is governed by reward principles. If what we do is followed by some “reward” we are likely to keep doing it. Staying locked down and not contracting the coronavirus is a reward, but as time passes people’s resolution begins to fray — our relatively low infection rate makes “not getting sick” seem like less of a reward, balanced against losing a job and the greater share of our income.
Many South Africans seem to have an optimism bias that “it won’t happen to me”. In addition, non-compliance with level 4 regulations will become widespread when certain of those regulations are viewed as irrational or punitive.
Strict regulation of the distribution of food aid seems inappropriate in a time of crisis. It can become a rallying point for civil disobedience for a good cause. Most people also fail to see the logic of opening shops but limiting the range of goods that are for sale (as in the case of winter clothing), or of restricting e-commerce and deliveries.
Economists would argue that if you are willing to spend money on something, it is essential to you. If we are already out shopping, we might as well get everything that we need. Even better if we can get all of it delivered.
We believe it is possible to get people to limit their mobility and social interactions to take responsibility for their own health and safety, while also getting back to work. We call on the government to restart the economy in the interest of the people of SA.

Covid-19: home affairs outlines measures to deal with immigration, work visas

The department of home affairs has outlined temporary measures regarding visas and permanent residence permits during the lockdown.
Image: Alaister Russell

People whose visas to work, study or conduct business in SA expired during the Covid-19 lockdown will not be penalised, home affairs said on Tuesday.

This also applies to people who submitted their applications before the lockdown, with the outcome pending.

This is among temporary visa measures for foreign nationals legally in SA which will remain valid until July 31 unless extended officially by the department.

During the lockdown, except for cases relating to expatriation initiated by their home countries, all foreign nationals who are currently in SA may not depart the country.

Expiry of visas

Holders of temporary residence visas which expired from mid-February, who did not renew their visas before the lockdown, will not be declared illegal or prohibited persons.

Any person whose visa expired before or during the lockdown will not be arrested nor detained for holding an expired visa.

Those who opt to return to their countries of origin or residence after the lockdown, instead of renewing their visas, will not be declared undesirable upon departure.

Visa application and adjudication

During the lockdown, the department is not receiving or adjudicating applications for visas and permanent residence permits.

Foreign nationals whose visas expired after February 15 may reapply for their respective visas or relevant visa exemptions while in SA immediately after the lockdown has been lifted. They will not be required to apply for authorisation to remain in the country. Those with expired visas from the same date who had scheduled appointments on dates which fall within the lockdown period should reschedule their appointments to an available date after the lockdown has been lifted, the department advised.

Lesotho exemption permit

Holders of the Lesotho Special Permit have up to June 15 to submit their applications for an exemption permit.

Expiry of asylum seeker permits

Any asylum seeker whose visa expired from March 16 to the end of the lockdown will not be penalised or arrested provided they legalise their visa within 30 calendar days of the lockdown being lifted.