Service providers are obliged to offer personal protective equipment. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Service providers are obliged to offer personal protective equipment. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

SA businesses insist they are not charging ’hidden’ Covid fees

By Sameer Naik, Karishma Dipa Time of article published Feb 13, 2021

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Johannesburg - While the Covid-19 pandemic has financially devastated almost all sectors of the economy, South African businesses are insisting that they are not charging “hidden” coronavirus-related fees to make up the fiscal shortfall.

Those who do require additional fees to be paid in order for a particular service to be provided during a global health crisis, such as some of the country’s dental practices, say they are only doing so in the best interest of practitioners and patients and that they are operating with full consent.

Dr Tinesha Parbhoo, head of Clinical Support Service at the South African Dental Association (SADA), told the Saturday Star this week that this is not done with the purpose of generating lost revenue and that they are well within their rights to do so.

“By law, dentists are permitted to charge fees for every service they have provided, provided that they have informed patients of the details of these costs and their implications.”

“This is not done in an effort to recoup lost profits but is the result of providing dental treatment during a pandemic.”

Parbhoo explained that dentists across the country are obligated to follow the SADA clinical protocols, which includes the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and that this is done to offer extra protection to patients, staff and practitioners.

“These extra measures attract additional expenses to the practitioner and dentists have also had to contend with higher costs of materials and consumables that are often imported into the country.”

But South African gyms say they have avoided charging their members Covid surcharges despite the rising increases in costs to run their businesses.

“Planet Fitness will not be charging members a surcharge for any of the Covid-19 safety materials,” said Gillian Elson, head of marketing at Planet Fitness.

“We currently spend close to R1 million per month on sanitisers, disinfectants and other protective materials. We also fog our clubs as an extra precautionary measure on a weekly basis to ensure that our clubs are Covid-19 free.”

Elson said they have also not increased their gym membership fees and that during the height of the pandemic, members were able to freeze their membership.

“We also implemented online classes to the entire country and those are still in place.”

Virgin Active have also not been charging Covid surcharges and annual increases were delayed.

“The pandemic and safety equipment and protocols meant businesses across the board will incur costs,” said Nikki Cockcroft, global chief marketing and technology officer at Virgin Active.

“We continue to do whatever we can to ensure all regulation requirements are strictly adhered to, while still operating at the premium level members have come to appreciate and expect.

“When clubs were given the green light to reopen in August, part of complying with regulations and Covid-19 protocols involved more stringent cleaning processes, screening equipment, the installation of more sanitisation stations, plexi-glass and upgrades to air-circulation capabilities.”

Virgin says its annual price increases have also been delayed.

Despite it being one of the industry’ hardest hit, the nation’s restaurant industry has also avoided charging their customers coronavirus-related fees.

“As far as I am aware, it’s not happening anywhere,” said Wendy Alberts, CEO of the Restaurant Association of South Africa.

Courier Companies like FedEx have also been transparent about their surcharges due to the pandemic.

Last year, FedEx announced a surcharge on all FedEx Express and TNT international parcel and freight shipments beginning April 6, 2020.

“Air cargo capacity remains limited, and we are incurring incremental costs as we continue to adjust our international networks to best deliver much-needed goods and services in this constrained environment,” a statement read.

Meanwhile, the Small Business Institute (SBI) acknowledged the financial burden small and medium Eenterprises (SMEs) are currently facing but urged them to avoid charging Covid surcharges.

“We appreciate the fact that the Covid-19 health and safety protocols have increased business and compliance costs but our view and pleas are that small businesses act ethically,” SBI CEO John Dludlu said.

While South African businesses have insisted that they have acted ethically during the pandemic, their US counterparts have been accused of increasingly charging “hidden” Covid fees.

According to a survey by The Washington Post, American consumers in 28 states have filed 510 complaints of coronavirus-related surcharges at dentist offices, senior living facilities, hair salons and restaurants.

The Saturday Star

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