First published Business Brief

The President’s address on the evening of 15 March 2020 sets out a range of measures that have been and will have to be taken in respect of COVID-19. Specifically, under the banner of the Disaster Management Act he proclaimed a national state of disaster (Section 27).

This Act provides for an integrated and co-ordinated disaster management policy that focuses on preventing or reducing the risk of disasters. A national command council chaired by the President is established and will meet 3 times per week. This has the status as an institution.

The following key aspects were raised by him in the proclamation:

  • Travel bans on individuals from high-risk countries
  • South Africans are advised to avoid travelling through the EU, UK, US and China
  • Measures must be taken to limit physical contact – gatherings of more than 100 people will be prohibited
  • Small gatherings must have a plan in place to prevent and mitigate the potential impact of the virus
  • Domestic travel is discouraged
  • Non-essential government travel abroad will be curtailed
  • All businesses must improve their hygiene control
  • A tracking and monitoring system will be implemented to ensure that those who have been infected with the virus are monitored
  • Travel ban from high-risk countries
  • SA Citizens to refrain from travelling to high-risk countries
  • Foreign nationals from high risk countries will be denied an entry visa into SA and visas issued are cancelled
  • Schools to close on 18 March 2020 and resume after the Easter Holiday
  • SA citizens returning from high-risk countries should be isolated and tested and those from medium-risk countries should undergo high-intensity screening
  • South Africans, who are returning from high-risk countries, will be required to undergo testing and self-isolation
  • Government will be putting fiscal interventions package measures in place to mitigate against the economic impact of COVID-19
  • Thirty-five land points of entry to be shut as well as two sea-ports.

A state of national disaster is declared when existing legislation and contingency arrangements do not adequately provide for the national executive to deal with the disaster or there are other special circumstances that warrant this. What this means effectively is that the Cabinet will probably be designing and communicating special measures that SA Citizens, organisations and institutions will have to comply with.

What are our recommendations to organisations in light of the above?

  1. Enhanced cleaning protocols, education and advocacy, availability of preventative measures such as alcohol-based sanitisers and closed bins must continue and be further improved.
  2. All employees must be requested to disclose if they have:
    • Travelled abroad and if so where to.
    • Returned post mid-February 2020 from high risk country travel and if so they have to go into self-quarantine and be tested in line with protocols.
    • Returned post mid-February 2020 from medium-risk country travel and if so they have to undergo high-intensity screening.
  3. Any gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited and organisations will have to cancel these events or conduct them remotely if the technology is available.
  4. Small gatherings (those less than 100 people) must be accompanied by employers having a plan in place to prevent and mitigate the potential impact of the virus. This would include education, availability of hand sanitisers and the like as well as social distancing as far as possible.
  5. Despite point 4 above, organisations have been urged to limit physical contact and handshakes. They have been encouraged to replace by an elbow greeting.
  6. Domestic travel should be discouraged and international travel curtailed.
  7. Organisations should establish central ‘nerve’ centers that record, monitor and co-ordinate matters pertaining to COVID-19.

Whilst organisations and all individuals must adopt a human-centric approach to dealing with this pandemic, the President already highlighted the obvious impact on the economic and financial dynamics in an already strained economy. In this regard, currently organisations are still operating under the parameters of labour law and the various provisions in the Labour Relations Act and BCEA as well as UIF and other Acts are available.

We will have to monitor the proclamations of the National Command Council closely and each organisation will have to respond in a manner that will afford the greatest sustainability based on the merits of each case.