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The Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber Raises the Alarm on New Surge in COVID-19 Infections

2020-11-06

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Business Chamber notes - with alarm- the increase in the number of COVID-19 infections since the relaxation of COVID-19 regulations to Alert Level 1.

As the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, we have noted - with alarm - the increase in the number of COVID-19 infections since the relaxation of COVID-19 regulations to Alert Level 1. This increase is attributable largely to behavior, which is in contravention of the recommended protocols on the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.  There seems to be blatant disregard of health and safety protocols, especially where large gatherings are concerned – despite the national curfew between midnight and 4 am, as per the Alert Level 1 COVID-19 regulations.

Nationally, Nelson Mandela Bay currently occupies the third position on the number of new infections by province, with eight areas flagged as hotspots namely: Walmer, Motherwell, Uitenhage, KwaZakhele, KwaNobuhle, Bethelsdorp, Zwide, and Despatch.  Any further disruption brought about by an intense second wave, would have a devastating impact on livelihoods, health and the economy at large. 

The business community, other sectors more than others, have already suffered major losses over the last 9 months and as such, could not possibly withstand another blow.  Between January and June this year, the city had already recorded more than 75 000 job losses. 

As the Business Chamber, we would like to make a clarion call to all businesses to strengthen their safety protocols to prevent a possible calamity.  With the relaxation of measures to Alert Level 1, we have also observed certain service sector businesses no longer following strict protocols on their premises.  It is critical to highlight the impact of this on the economy.  While the business community has to be compliant at all times, each individual member of society has an equal responsibility to keep him/herself safe – thus protecting their families and colleagues.  The Business Chamber strongly recommends adherence to COVID-19 regulations.

As the business fraternity, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our staff members and customers. We also have a responsibility to lead by example, as such, we need to enforce proper social distancing at work, provide the necessary PPE and sanitizer and enable staff members who can work from home to do so.  The Business Chamber, would also encourage businesses to conduct rapid COVID-19 tests in the workplace where needed and if possible, donate rapid testing kits to vulnerable communities. By doing so we may be able to contain the spread of the virus and safeguard both lives and livelihoods”.

This time of the year is critical for manufacturing companies as they are working towards meeting their production targets for the year.  We have been in contact with some of our members, who have voiced major concerns, as they’ve seen numbers spike in a relatively short space of time.

VWSA Head of Communications, Andile Dlamini said: “The company and the country have already suffered from the impact left by hard lockdown in April and May and we simply cannot afford a similar situation again. We have put extensive measures in place to protect employees, including health and safety protocols, a Covid-19 testing facility, and working from home where possible. We continue to communicate with employees to encourage them to act responsibly by adhering to protocols such as wearing masks, avoiding public gatherings, and sanitizing regularly.” 

“All of this is done because we know people move the virus and we need our employees to be safe and healthy. We have been forced to make contingency plans, and as we are now operating on a three-shift pattern, we need each of our employees to build quality cars; if people are off sick it becomes almost impossible to run our production schedule.”

“As a company, we need to fulfill our obligations and play our role in keeping the local economy going. We have all felt the severe impact of Covid-19 this year, and we need everyone – not just the business community, but every individual – to guard against complacency and be responsible in how they conduct themselves at work and at home so we can fight the second wave and avoid another damaging hard lockdown.”

Member company, Borbet South Africa HR manager Glen Zamisa said they were currently seized by issues relating to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in their facility after reopening. 

“Last week we experienced our first fatality since the outbreak of Covid-19 early this year. We have continued with our Covid-19 protocols but are exploring ways of getting better for this second wave.

“We have identified first-line management (Supervisory level) as the critical area to be strengthened for regular communication about any possible or actual incident. They also need to be empowered to be able to deal with incidents during their shifts.”

“We have also noticed an increase in requests to isolate due to more direct and close relatives of employees testing positive. Employees have become more nervous and feel more at risk especially after losing a colleague. In short, we are tightening and getting stricter with Covid-19 protocols, but a more stringent lockdown imposition would be disastrous for the business.”

“People have to balance between maintaining current job levels and also looking after themselves. We have not even recovered from the financial effects of the previous lockdowns as UIF TERS has not paid all the monies owing to employees. Another lockdown will spell doom and gloom.”

He said their planned early shutdown “is a financial blow to the business and the employees on its own already”. 

Another Business Chamber member company, Isuzu South Africa has said that it was deeply concerned about the current spike which they were seeing in the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the city. 

Denise van Huyssteen, Isuzu Motors South Africa Corporate Affairs Executive said it was “vitally important that as businesses we all adhere to the required safety protocol and given the seriousness of the situation, we should be taking proactive actions to further reduce potential risks. We all need to focus on what is in our control so as to ensure the continuation of our business operations and to avoid the potential need for stricter restrictions to be imposed on economic activities”.

“Equally important, we need to remember that this virus is spread by people and we need to ensure that our employees are taking this seriously and are abiding to the right behaviour practices and protocol. Of course, it is difficult for us as businesses to monitor what our employees are doing outside of the workplace, but we need to appeal to them that in the interests of their family members and friends, they need to do the right thing. We cannot afford for Covid-19 fatigue to set in and cause further disruptions to the economy.”

“As Isuzu Motors South Africa we have implemented strict health and safety guidelines which has resulted in the reconfiguration of our workplace and the adjustment of work schedules to maintain the right levels of social distancing as well as to meet all other health and safety requirements, and to ensure that our risk management processes remain robust,” said Van Huyssteen. 

She said Isuzu SA was focused on safeguarding the health of all its employees, on-site contractors, and their families. Depending on the nature of their work, they would continue to have as many of their employees operating from home. 

“Employee education and training is conducted regularly, as well as the ongoing monitoring of the adherence to the required protocol such as the mandatory wearing of face masks, enforcement of social distancing requirements and regular sanitization.”

“Beyond this, we are supporting our contractors and suppliers to safeguard the health of their employees and families; and we are assisting our dealer network to ensure that they have implemented risk-adjusted measures which are in compliance with the relevant health and safety requirements.”

She said: “Ultimately our objectives are to prioritize the health and safety needs of our stakeholders, while balancing this up with sustainable business continuity and job preservation, thus supporting South Africa’s economic recovery and growth.” 

Nelson Mandela University, through its Communications and Marketing Department also commented that, the Nelson Mandela University is extremely concerned by this, due to the risk and impact on the Bay community at large, as well on their campuses, the bulk of which are situated in the area.

Since the advent of the pandemic on our shores, Mandela University put in place measures for the prevention, surveillance and management of the virus, as driven by a task team leading the institutional response to the pandemic.

A continued upsurge in infections runs the risk of seeing us reverting to hard lockdown conditions, which, as previously seen, bore substantial social and economic challenges.

As the University navigated Level 1, it has been stressing how it is of utmost importance to remember that despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, COVID-19 is still with us. This necessitates cautious vigilance and adherence to the rules and regulations in place, which are aimed towards ensuring continued safety and prevention of infection. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to play our part in preventing the spread of the virus as far as possible and try to save not only ourselves, but also those around us.

Neither the Metro nor the country can afford another hard lockdown, yet as the Business Chamber, we are profoundly alarmed by the unprecedented rising number of infections since the relaxation of lockdown regulations and fear that both a second wave and second hard lockdown with stricter regulations would be economically devastating. 

Chief Executive Officer

Nomkhita Mona

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