South African companies are responding to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak with social initiatives as well as plans to keep their businesses operating smoothly.
Aspen Pharmacare, Africa’s biggest drugmaker, is in talks with government to fast-track the production of certain key medicines so enough are available to treat the sick, chief executive Stephen Saad said.
With schools closed, telecoms giant Vodacom is offering online classes in all 11 South African languages and providing free data services to job-search portals, health sites and government services, the company said. MultiChoice, South Africa’s biggest provider of pay-TV, has made some news channels free-to-air and is broadcasting public-service announcements.
The initiatives follow President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision on March 15 to ban travellers from high-risk countries, close schools and restrict people from gathering in large groups to contain the virus.
By Friday 202 people had tested positive for the virus – since travellers from disease hotspots such as Italy and France were first diagnoses earlier this month. This is likely to put pressure on a health system that is already battling with high rates of HIV and TB.
“Government has been very proactive and we are focused on supply continuity, which is critical,” said Saad. “Most of our factories are sterile factories, so in that sense you are probably safer at work.”
While Aspen has seen a spike in demand for some of its over the counter pain, respiratory and colds and flu medicines, supply from China is almost back on track.
“You are starting to see a change in the mix of anaesthetics needed, to more muscle-relaxant type anaesthetics for respiratory issues,” Saad said. “At the same time you’ve got to try get stock through closed borders. The biggest problem is logistics.”
Eskom, the struggling state-owned power utility, held off implementing rolling blackouts this week, and future electricity cuts will only be implemented if absolutely necessary, the company said.
Absa, which last week missed profit estimates on the country’s struggling economy, said it’s too soon to speculate on possible defaults on loans but is looking at ways to help customers should they find themselves in financial difficulty.
“We would like to heighten our call to our customers to approach us directly in the event of any form of uncertainty, including financial distress,” said Arrie Rautenbach, the CEO at Absa Retail and Business Banking. – Bloomberg