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Economic cluster announces level 3 regulations

This as workplaces set to re-open from 1 June.

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille has ensured South Africans that the government has enough quarantine sites to facilitate the anticipated hike in infections as the economy re-opens.

This as the economic cluster minister’s part of the national coronavirus command council (NCCC) briefed the media on level 3 regulations, on Friday.

De Lille said there were about 1 751 facilities that have been identified as proposed sites, with more than 129 600 beds across the country.

Of these 1 751 facilities, 642 were state-owned facilities and 1 109 privately-owned.

“In the Western Cape, which is currently the epicentre of the virus, there are 358 facilities that have been identified, representing more than 27 500 beds.

“Some of these sites have been assessed and confirmed as compliant and activated. The Department of Health is in the process of assessing the remainder of the sites.”

She said 395 facilities nationally have been assessed and approved as quarantine facilities with 35 759 beds.

“In addition to state-owned and private facilities, there are also sites from state-owned entities (SOEs) such as Transnet and Eskom and these have been activated and managed by the SOEs.”

In the Eastern Cape, 32 hospitals have been identified for refurbishment as part of the department’s provincial health facilities readiness.

In KwaZulu-Natal, 19 hospitals were refurbished. In Mpumalanga, 10 sites have been identified for field hospitals and the province was busy with technical assessments.

In the Western Cape, the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) was completed as a field hospital site. Other sites that have been identified were considered to be converted into field hospitals.

In the North West the department said teams were focusing on increasing the capacity of existing hospitals by constructing additional structures.

“The remaining provinces are still in the process of finalising their plans for field hospitals.”

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said many people who work within the energy sector, from maintenance and operational, will get back to work.

“Under level 3 all deep mining operations are expected to ramp up to full capacity.”

Mantashe made a firm call for the sector to comply with health and safety measures as they were compulsory in the protection of the health of mine workers.

He said during his visits at the mines the department found some mines were not complying to Covid-19 mining operational regulations.

“Compliance with conditions is compulsory. All mining operations are required to implement codes of practice for dealing with Covid-19. Failure to do so will be considered a criminal offence.”

He said over 4 600 people were tested within the mining industry, 384 tested positive.

Mantashe said a number of those who tested positive were asymptomatic, which was worrisome.

He said the sector also suffered from the lockdown, as four fuel refineries had to close down due to a low demand.

Mantashe, however, said the sector was set for recovery as many geared up to get back to work. An increase in fuel demand was expected.

Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, said that workers have the right to refuse to go to work if health and safety measures have not been put in place.He said workers who came into contact with those diagnosed with Covid-19 must be placed in 14 days quarantine with paid sick leave.

Nxesi said as many more people will be going back to work in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were important actions that needed to be taken to ensure minimal exposure at workplaces.

In terms of the draft amendments, employers who will be re-opening their businesses in terms of alert level 3 will be required to appoint a Covid-19 compliance officer.

The employees must be given, free of charge, at least two masks, he said.

“The direction also clarifies that employers may not deduct the cost of Covid-19 precautions from employees’ wages or require them to pay for these.

“The obligations of employers to employees who have comorbidities, or are over 60 years of age, have been clarified because of medical evidence that they are more vulnerable to Covid-19 complications or death.”

He said there were low levels of health and safety compliance in workplaces, out of the total amount of 3 844 inspections, 2 116 complied while 1 724 failed to comply.

“Employers need to understand that it isn’t just about disputes and challenges. We can lay criminal charges against those who aren’t adhering to regulations.”

On the UIF, he said over R15-billion in Covid-19 relief benefits went to three million workers, through 200 000 employers, and bargaining councils had been paid out.

He said, on Thursday the UIF May applications were opened.

“With the re-opening of our labour centres, we expect huge numbers of workers coming to raise disputes around not being paid their UIF.”

Trade and Industry minister Ebrahim Patel said as workplaces opened they needed a  ‘toolbox’  which include health and safety measures in the workplace such as masks.

He said locally-based manufactures were equipped to meet the anticipated hike.

“When the first people were infected we had a limited capacity to make more advanced masks. Over the past months, government and private manufacturers have increased production of these masks. We have produced 25 million surgical and medical masks. By June the production will ramp up to 31 million.”

Patel said local manufactures, engineers and scientists were also developing ventilators that will be needed during the peak expected between July and August.

He said the manufactures were looking into producing 20 000 ventilators by August.

Patel said the national empowerment fund set aside R80 million for the Covid-19 distressed black business fund, which was already overwhelmed with applications.

He said a lot of businesses placed a hike in prices of some products and the Competition Commission was dealing with this.

Commissioner of the South African Competition Commission Tembinkosi Bonakele said more than 1 500 cases were filed and resulted in R13-million in fines.

“What we have seen in past weeks is that although prices initially spiked due to panic buying, they have somewhat stabilised. There is still opportunistic behaviour. When it comes to food there has been stabilisation. We expect we will have price hikes, for example, rice and wheat which we import.”

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