Picture: Gallo Images/AFP/Bernd Thissen
Picture: Gallo Images/AFP/Bernd Thissen

Business SA (BSA), a new initiative created to help the government combat SA’s response to Covid-19, has issued an urgent call to companies to release their supplies of masks, gowns and gloves to protect health-care staff tackling the virus.

BSA includes organisations such as Business Unity SA and the Black Business Council.

SA’s first coronavirus case was announced on March 5, and by Sunday the tally had soared to 1,280 confirmed cases, with two deaths. Health-care workers are already sounding the alarm over shortages of masks, gloves, plastic aprons and goggles.

South African Medical Association (Sama) chair Angelique Coetzee said the organisation was advising doctors to consider every patient as being potentially infected and step up their use of protective equipment. However, Sama was receiving reports of shortages in public hospitals, particularly in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Local stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been hit by soaring global demand in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, which by Monday had sickened 738,000 people and killed more than 35,000 people since it first emerged in China late last year, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. The equipment shortages have been worsened by export restrictions, supply chain disruptions and escalating costs, BSA said in a statement.

“Stocks are rapidly depleting. We are going to have to fly in a special consignment from China,” said the head of BSA’s health workstream Stavros Nicolaou, who is Aspen Pharmacare’s head of strategic trade. The consignment, worth “tens of millions of rand”, had been financed by the Solidarity Fund and other donors, he said. The fund was established by the government last week to channel donations aimed at helping SA tackle Covid-19 and support vulnerable people whose lives are disrupted by the disease.

Supplies would be allocated to both private and public health-care facilities, in consultation with the national health department, said Nicolaou.

 “In almost every sector, there are companies that have stocks of protective gear that they issue to employees to protect them in the workplace. These are the stocks that are urgently required to be fed into the national health efforts to combat and manage the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

BSA is eyeing PPE held by companies in manufacturing, forestry and agriculture, construction, mills, spray painting, mining and signwriting industries, among others, as a strategy for quickly boosting stocks for the health-care sector.

It is also working with the government to try to boost local manufacturing and production.

In a separate development, the National Empowerment Fund announced that it would make R200m in low interest loans available to support black entrepreneurs to manufacture medical supplies, including PPE.

BSA has asked all companies with PPE stocks to contact it on covid19supplies@businessresponsecovid19.co.za.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za