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Press Statement: ILRIG Suspension of Public Events and Activities in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

18 March 2020

In light of the rapid global spread of COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus) and its potentially devastating impact on South Africa, we at the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) will be suspending all workshops, meetings, and other public events with immediate effect, until further notice.

We have not taken this decision lightly, nor out of panic or fear, but rather in the interests of collective and societal responsibility. We cannot take a business-as-usual approach. The recommendation of “social distancing” (avoiding crowds and minimising exposure to others) by health professionals is to ensure a slower rate of infection, so that we can contain the spread of the virus and place less strain on our public health system; although we recognise the practical difficulties of implementing this for those who live in overcrowded conditions. We have seen the inability of countries much better-resourced than ours, and with more functional health systems, to cope with this virus once it has escalated. It is critical that we take necessary measures to limit the risk to those most vulnerable, including the elderly, those with HIV and TB and the poor in general. This must mean the suspension of larger public gatherings, and the implementation of all precautions for small gatherings, which will only be held when absolutely necessary, especially since many carriers of the virus show no symptoms and can pass on the virus unknowingly. 

It is vital that these steps go alongside holding the South African government and private sector accountable during this pandemic, in the interests of the poor and working classes who will inevitably be most impacted by this pandemic and the concurrent economic recession. This must include demands for greater clarity on government’s proposed economic stimulus package, exploration of the need to freeze rent, mortgage and other payments for affected households, the provision of free, clean and accessible water and sanitation, as well as clamping down on price gouging in regard to face masks, hand sanitizer and similar products that are part of the materials that can be used to protect oneself against the virus. Testing for the coronavirus must be free for all and there must be greater transparency around the extent of its spread.

ILRIG will not be shutting down its operations entirely. We will continue our research and writing work and will continue to collaborate with partner organisations where possible. We are merely shifting our focus and energies to ensure that we are acting responsibly during this health crisis. We will continue to monitor this pandemic and the National State of Disaster until we are confident that we can return to hosting public events and activities without endangering the health and safety of those we work and struggle with.

We ask for understanding and encourage others to do what they can to practice care and stay in solidarity with one another, and especially with those most vulnerable to this virus.

For further enquiries, contact our Cape Town office at 021 447 6375.