JOHANNESBURG - Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has discouraged stockpiling and bulk buying of groceries and other essentials as many South Africans fear that the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) could lead to a lockdown in the country.
Shoppers flocked to wholesale and retail stores yesterday to stockpile on non-perishable goods and supplies after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the Covid-19 a national disaster on Sunday.
Patel said the government had reached out to the industries in a bid to quantify production in the country. He said the government was in communication with the food and beverage sectors, steel, auto, retail, pharmaceutical, mining companies and importers of the basic foods over measures to mitigate supply shortages. Patel also said the Competition Commission would be on high alert after complaints of stores hiking prices of items such as hand sanitisers.
“We need to ensure that there is no panic buying as this may cause panic in the retail industry. We are discouraging people from rushing to shops and stockpiling on supplies,” Patel said.
“It is important to secure stocks, the provision of hand sanitisers, masks, gloves and protective clothing and test kits; to analyse and quantify existing production capabilities, and to look at what needs to be done to scale up and what some of the constraints are. Ports are remaining open to allow free flow of goods in order to ensure that the country doesn’t run out of supplies. But panic buying will put a strain on the supply cycle.”
Patel was speaking after the special executive council meeting between government, business, and labour and other social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to discuss measures to deal with the impact of the Covid19 epidemic.
There have been at least 62 confirmed positive cases of Covid-19 in South Africa and a number of public institutions have either cancelled, closed or postponed their scheduled gatherings and travel arrangements. Patel also said that there was no foreseen disruption to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which is due to begin on July 1, as a result of closing of borders. “There is already trade happening among African countries.
The only thing that will start in July is lowering tariffs. We are looking forward to working with our neighbours,” he said. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc across more than 120 countries worldwide and left some European cities on lockdown as governments try to curb its spread.
Ramaphosa announced halting flights, closure of schools, mandatory testing, and self-isolation or quarantine for South African nationals returning from affected countries in a bid to the spread of the Covid-19. The restrictions shocked investors and saw a carnage in the stock markets, with the JSE All Share Index falling more than 10 percent and the rand trading as high as R16.70 against the dollar.
Ramaphosa also said the government was finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate the expected impact on the economy.