Business bodies set up specialist task teams to help govt tackle coronavirus


South African business bodies and lobby groups have set up specialised task teams to help government respond to the coronavirus.

These include a health task team - focusing on healthcare interventions - as well as an economic task team and a labour task team, all of which will in turn be assisted by a team focusing on communications, according to a statement issued by Business Unity South Africa on Monday afternoon.

The teams, which were set up following a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa, will operate from a central project management office. They will work closely with the national departments of health, employment and labour, and trade and industry, as well as in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

The news came as the number of infections in the country passed 400. The president is due to address the country on the coronavirus outbreak on Monday evening, just over a week after declaring a national state of disaster.

Mobilising resources

In a statement issued on Monday afternoon, BUSA said there had been a "fruitful discussion" with the president during a multi-stakeholder engagement session on Covid-19.

"Business has rapidly mobilised to combine its resources in the service of South Africa and its people, to limit the economic, social and health impact of Covid-19 on the country," it said.

BUSA, the Black Business Council (BBC) and other companies and business associations together established the project management office to ensure collaboration with government and to use available business resources to support public sector initiatives, BUSA said.

"[T]his will see business being aligned with government in putting the needs of South Africa first," it added.

Healthcare supplies

The task teams operating from the office have been set up to assess and implement business initiatives to deal with the impact of the pandemic in the health sector, the labour market and the broader market, BUSA explained.

"The health workstream is focused on mobilising resources to contribute to Covid-19 tracing, tracking, testing, monitoring and pathology labs; communicating around Covid-19; hospital responses and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medicines and medical devices; and support[ing] the National Health Department with capabilities to enable more specific demographic resource deployment," the business body said.

"The economic workstream will, inter alia, identify critical sectors in the national response; help develop policy and industry specific interventions, including tax and loan relief; ensure security of critical supplies and energy; model the economic impact of Covid-19 and combat predatory pricing, rent seeking and panic buying."

Electricity and public transport

The economic stream is also working on mitigating the impact of inconsistent electricity supply and other infrastructural issues, as well as assessing the impact on technology, media and telecommunications services and networks, given the demand for remote work.

It will further attempt to mitigate the risks related to public transport, and identify other commuting services.

The labour workstream, meanwhile, will look at the impact of Covid-19 on employers and employees; develop advice on issues such as short working hours, Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims and special leave.

"It will identify and address blockages such as seeking adjustments to the Disaster Management Regulations and other aspects of the regulatory framework.

"It will also be encouraging good practise to preserve and support employees; environment and workplace hygiene, and collaboration with regulators especially in high risk sectors," the statement said.

BUSA vice president, Martin Kingston, said desperate times called for desperate measures. "We have embarked on this major collaboration – among South African businesses and with government – to share best practice, reduce risk wherever possible, and implement practical measures to ease the hardships caused by this global catastrophe.

"We will see through this pandemic by preparing effectively, adapting where necessary and acting decisively," he added.

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