Minister of Trade, Industry and Economic Development Ebrahim Patel on Friday evening that his department had extended the list of businesses which constitute an essential service and will be allowed to continue with limited operation during the national lockdown.
The update comes on the first day of South Africa’s 21-day lockdown, aimed at stemming the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus.
The virus has 1170 confirmed cases as of Friday and one confirmed death directly linked to the virus.
President Cyril Ramaphosa called for businesses to allow employees who do not constitute an essential service to stay home.
The minister said 50 000 companies employing 1.5 million workers applied to register their companies as providers of essential services through an online platform set up by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, with 40 000 certificates already awarded.
Patel said the list of essential services and essential products was updated and gazetted on Thursday evening to include baby care products, toiletries, tow trucks, vehicle recovery services, food harvesting and storage, payroll administrators and short-term critical maintenance services.
Patel said while the first day of the lockdown was not without challenges and glitches, the overwhelming majority of employers were complying with the conditions of the lockdown.
“Most of the economy shut down today, with the exception of essential services. While we had reports of some companies which stayed open who were not essential services, these were relatively small exceptions. Most companies in the sectors of the economy that are not essential services obeyed the call of the president,” said Patel.
Patel said food production, from farms, to logistics to retail, remained open to continue supplying food items to South Africans during the period of the lockdown. He said retailers told him earlier on Friday during cite visits that they were developing systems to manage customer influx.
“Retailers are restocking their shelves in the next two days to ensure that those who need to shop next week have basic and essential goods available. I would like to thank the workers in factories and truck drivers that are bringing food to stores so that South Africans know they have access to food,” Patel said.
Patel said 500 complaints of unjustified price increases were received by the Consumer Commission and the Competition Commission. He warned that government would not hesitate to impose fines and penalties on businesses that hiked prices during the coronavirus lockdown, even if it meant driving them to closure.
“These are now being acted on and the full might of the law will be used against companies concerned. We will not hesitate to charge people criminally under the legislation and they will be put in jail if they are found guilty.
“Companies will be given fines that may put many of those businesses in closure – they will have to close their business – because it is necessary to protect South Africans from being exploited in this period,” said Patel.
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu urged South Africans to be patient, as the first day of the lockdown, like any undertaking, would bring “challenges” with it.