South African COVID-19 Update

South African employers react: many employees now working from home.

The South African government has encouraged ‘social distancing’ as it grapples with coronavirus pandemic. A number of large South African companies have indicated that they will follow these restrictions and allow employees to work from home. Companies such as Old Mutual have reacted quickly, and already put such measures in place to protect the health of their employees. Labour law specialist, Natasha Moni, told Health-e that employers have to ensure that employees have a safe environment to work in.

Research by Jack Hammer, the US-based executive head-hunting firm with offices across Africa, says that of SA companies polled, 80% say they will offer remote working options to job candidates. Many employers cling to the idea that staff must be seen at all hours of the working day. As Esther Canónico, a UK-based author, researcher and consultant on organisational behaviour, says: “As far as some companies are concerned, if they don’t see a worker working, then that worker is not working.”

Wits Business School professor Bhekinkosi Moyo thinks the problem is particularly prevalent in Africa. “This whole thing of going to the office and seeing people says to me that while the rest of the world is caught up in the fourth industrial revolution, our leaders are stuck in the second,” he says. “They measure people’s performance by how long they spend in the office. We need a strong culture shock.” Covid-19, as devastating as it may be, could provide that shock. “If it wasn’t this virus, it would be something else,” says Moyo. “Something has to give.”

Shoprite, Woolworths and Pick n Pay are rationing these items because of coronavirus panic buying

The Shoprite Group says it has begun rationing certain products as consumers have not heeded the call to refrain from stockpiling. The group said it would now ration certain products to ensure that all customers have access. This includes toilet paper, tissues, wipes, liquid soap, hand sanitizer, canned food, painkillers, and cereals. “Sixty60 orders have been limited to a maximum of 30 items and individual products are limited to three per customer. This facilitates quicker order fulfilment and enables more customers to be served with necessities at home.”

Woolworths said it has seen an increase in sales of certain products and are working to meet the demand. “To ensure enough products for everyone, we have set a limit of 5 units per product per customer. We will continue to replenish our products regularly,” it said.

Pick n Pay has indicated that where stocks were temporarily low due to heavy customer demand, it would be limiting the number of certain products per customer. “Understandably, as customers act on the advice about effective hygiene measures, they are stocking up on household cleaning and personal hygiene products,” said chief executive officer Richard Brasher.

Pick n Pay will open all its supermarkets and hypermarkets an hour earlier every Wednesday for elderly customers to shop for their groceries and essentials. The initiative will start on Wednesday (18 March) and stores will be open exclusively for customers over the age of 65 years from 07h00 – 08h00. Customers should have a valid ID to enter the store during this time, Pick n Pay said.

New coronavirus laws

Government has published new regulations empowering it to act on declarations made to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the state of disaster. Authorities can now break up unsanctioned gatherings, and take legal action against those who endanger themselves and others. This includes people who spread fake news, fake illness, deliberately infect others, or business who sell alcohol after 18h00, or don’t limit crowds.

According to the new regulations anyone who creates or spreads fake news about Covid-19 can be prosecuted. It therefore applies to both the creators of fake Covid-19 news and those who spread the news through social media and other channels.

Any person who intentionally misrepresents that he, she or any other person is infected with Covid-19 is also guilty of an offence. On conviction this person is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both a fine and imprisonment. The new regulations have also introduced severe punishment for people who intentionally expose others to the coronavirus. Deliberate spreading of Covid-19 would result in the person being charged with either assault, attempted murder or murder. It further prohibits any person who is infected with Covid-19, or is suspected to be infected, to refuse to be examined, treated or be isolated or quarantined.

SARS makes changes due to coronavirus

The South African Revenue Services (SARS) has announced a number of changes as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. Taxpayers are discouraged to come into branches and are advised to make use of online digital channels for all engagements. The majority of business can be done on the SARS eFiling platform: www.sarsefiling.co.za.

The mobiApp in addition to Personal Income Tax functionality provides additional information which SARS encourages you to download through an app store (Google Play or Apple Store). The SARS website (www.sars.gov.za) will also be regularly updated with news and announcements. If you still need to visit a SARS tax branch, strict adherence to social distancing and general hygiene practices will be applied.

SA Express suspends all operations due to coronavirus

In light of adverse recent developments including the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, SA Express said that it will suspend operations from 18 March 2020 until further notice. The airline said that this decision will impact both SA Express customers and staff in the following manner: all customers will be accommodated on alternative flights, and all non-critical SA Express staff will be placed on compulsory leave during this time.

South African universities close early over coronavirus fears

Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande has announced that all post school institutions will be closed for early recess from 18 March, in line with government’s plans to prevent further spread of the coronavirus in South Africa. This will include the normal institutional break that was coming in the next few weeks, with the minister noting that some institutions have already implemented this particular plan.

Several universities had already suspended contact lectures following the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic as a state of disaster in South Africa. Currently, the plan is to return from this break on 15 April 2020, just after the Easter weekend; however, Nzimande said that the exact dates for coming back will be based on the assessment of the severity of the coronavirus in South Africa.

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Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8]. Image sources: [1], [2].