Industry leaders put heads together as coronavirus strikes

3D art based in microscope images of the corona virus from the 2020 outbreak in Wuhan, China
3D art based in microscope images of the corona virus from the 2020 outbreak in Wuhan, China

While government gets to grips with the emergence of the coronavirus in South Africa, introducing the closure of multiple trade ports as a preventative measure, industry leaders and organisations met on Monday to strategise and assess the impact of the outbreak.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus and to assist businesses that will inevitably struggle as the pandemic continues. These included the closure of ports and financial assistance measures.

At a briefing by Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, he emphasised that the closure of ports related to travelling people and not to cargo or goods.

Meanwhile, the president said financial assistance would be offered where necessary. "Because of the severity of this virus and its rapid spreading, government will make funding available to capacitate the sectors dealing with the national response to the coronavirus outbreak," said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa said all non-essential travel for all spheres of government outside of the Republic was prohibited, effective immediately.

"South Africa has 72 ports of entry in the country which are land, sea and airports. Of the 53 land ports, 35 will be shut down with effect from Monday 16 March. Two of the eight seaports will be closed for passengers and crew changes," said Ramaphosa.

Charmane Russell of the Minerals Council of South Africa told Fin24 that while it was still early days, it could be expected that demand could be impacted for some mining exports, such as manganese and coal, which are bulk products.

"It's too early to tell. It's a new announcement and we will find out more details about it this morning. Clearly from an overall impact and fiscal perspective, bearing in mind the medium and long-term environment of the minerals sector, it depends on the time period of the closures," said Russell.

Russell said the Minerals Council would continue to look closely at the message and its measures. Many of the president's announcements were measures that the industry had already started taking, including awareness campaigns and screening.

CEO of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry Alan Mukoki told Fin24 that he would  later be attending a meeting under the auspices of the National Economic Development and Labour Council where he expected a way forward to be determined.

Efficient Group economist Francois Stofberg told Fin24 that, local and global economy, the expectation was that there will be a marked decrease in growth and that there were fears that the global economy will enter a recession.

"Spanish, Germain, Italian and Iranian government means the flow of people and products will be inhibited. As soon as you intervene in markets and economies like that, that is when you will start to see a lack of growth," said Stofberg.

Stofberg welcomed the measures introduced by Ramaphosa. He said while markets were reflecting great anxiety, as soon as the flow of people is restricted in situations like these, the spread of a virus through human contact is limited, which in turn improves business confidence in the long term.

"Based on what we see now, there is a fear driven sale of a story. We are not yet at the amount of deaths caused by malaria or crime in any country. In terms of severity, it seems to be a lot more hyped and sensationalised than the impact would warrant," said Stofberg.

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