A crucial portal set up to allow businesses to apply for permission to trade during the 21-day lockdown was plagued by technical glitches on Thursday, preventing thousands of companies from registering.

On Wednesday trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel announced that all businesses that will be allowed to provide essential services are required to seek approval from the department. Such businesses need to apply to the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) bizportal website at www.bizportal.gov.za and obtain a certificate that allows them to continue trading. The website will contain a menu icon listed as “essential service businesses” through which an application can be made.

The department said the service would be available at the start of business trading hours on Thursday. However, the site was unavailable for part of the day, leaving many businesses uncertain as to whether they will be allowed to operate on Friday when the lockdown comes into force. It was eventually back online again by 6:30pm.

The department said that no company will be prejudiced by any delay in the system. “The service will continue to run tomorrow [Friday] and beyond and it is not a requirement that companies complete registration before the lockdown begins,” the department said in a statement.

It said as of 4pm on Thursday afternoon, nearly 15,000 companies had already registered as providers of essential goods and services. Most of these have been in food supply, medical and pharmaceutical services and transport services.

Only companies, spaza shops, health-care professionals and farmers permitted in terms of the lockdown regulations will be allowed to continue operating through the period. “Companies must be guided by the regulation as to whether their business operations constitute essential services. Any misrepresentation of information is a criminal offence and will be prosecuted,” the department said.

“Already we have seen companies selling on-premise consumption of alcohol registering through the platform. Other examples include non-essential grooming for pets. We will advise these companies that this is not permitted, and may take further action if required.

“We ask that companies be patient through the registration process, as there are large volumes presently being experienced.”

DA MP Dean Macpherson said sources in the CIPC have advised him that they were given limited notice and there was no consultation with them until Wednesday.

“They have been scrambling through the night to get the site up, to their credit. It is unthinkable and unacceptable that this is all being done on the day of the lockdown which probably means the website will not be able to handle the flood of applications,” Macpherson said.