Coronavirus: Business Response

Businesses release protective equipment for medical staff to use

By Karin Schimke 14 April 2020

An appeal to SA companies to release personal protective equipment stock for combating Covid-19 has had a tremendous response.

There has been a hearty response to an urgent call for companies to release their stocks of personal protective equipment to help gear up the medical frontline in the fight against Covid-19.

A warehouse full of PPE supplies ready for distribution at  Imperial Health Sciences. (Photo supplied)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) worth R400-million has been acquired in just two weeks since Business for South Africa (B4SA) sent out a call to companies who had stock of PPE to release it for use in the national health sector.

Almost one million sterile gloves, 20,000 face shields, 1.12 million N95 masks, six million surgical masks for healthcare workers, 8.5 million surgical masks for patients and 200 ventilators have been acquired.

B4SA’s Public Health Workgroup, led by Stavros Nicolaou, is focused on securing PPE stock. The group is working closely with the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, and with the National Department of Health (NDoH), as well as with the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition.

“The response from businesses across South Africa has been positive. We launched the campaign to achieve two objectives,” Nicolaou told Daily Maverick

“The first was to unlock the PPE that is potentially in stores, warehouses and offices in the country already and second, to identify and encourage those companies that have access to suppliers of PPE to come forward in the national interest.”

The procurement of this stock is being supported by funding from the Solidarity Fund, Motsepe Foundation, SPIRE (RMB) and Naspers. On top of the R400-million that has already been spent, there is pipeline funding for another R360-million.

All the stocks that are landing in SA or that are being collected from local donors and suppliers are being delivered to the Imperial Health Sciences warehouse. Imperial Health Sciences is a Schedule 6 medical distribution company.

Products that require sterilisation will be sterilised on-site in compliance with Covid-19 protocols.

“We have already begun the distribution process and are working closely with the NDoH and the provinces to ensure PPE is delivered across all provinces,” Nicolaou said. The allocation of the PPE is being led by the health department.

All suppliers and products are subject to robust verification, compliance, quality and governance protocols, which they must pass to be registered as an accredited supplier of PPE.

B4SA is an alliance of volunteer resources from across South African business bodies and organisations supporting the government’s Covid-19 public health and civil defence campaigns. The Health Workgroup is one of three core groups under the B4SA umbrella.

The progress each of the groups has made in the past two weeks was reported in a statement to the media yesterday.

Apart from the significant successes of the Health Workgroup, the Labour Workgroup has been developing advisory positions for employers on employment and labour-relations issues. It is dealing with questions about remuneration during lockdown, job preservation and employer obligations towards their workers to keep them safe if they are working during lockdown.

The Economic Intervention Workgroup has been working on finding ways to lessen the impact of the lockdown on the economy. Its work has included (but isn’t limited to) a macroeconomic analysis modelling impact scenarios and suggesting a range of support and relief packages, inputs to government about expanding the definition of essential goods and services and mapping the risks of critical infrastructure including electricity, liquid fuels, gas and water. It is also assessing the impact on technology, media and telecommunications services and networks given the urgency of remote working.

The Economic Intervention Workgroup is considering public transport system issues and facilitating exemptions for international flights and air crew to expedite the receipt of essential air cargo. It is also monitoring price gouging and is working on initiatives to reduce predatory pricing.

B4SA’s support and co-ordination is implemented through a Project Management Office which is resourced by volunteers from business, professional services firms, law firms and communications specialists.

To better manage the control of the coronavirus disease, B4SA has indicated its support for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to extend the lockdown period to the end of April 2020.

B4SA’s Martin Kingston said: “We fully recognise and appreciate that the extended lockdown will further deepen the profound economic and societal impacts of Covid-19 [but] we all agree that the need to prevent any loss of life and the uncontrollable surge of infections outweighs the economic consequences of the pandemic.” MC

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