Covid-19 cases near 1,000 as SA shuts; SA billionaires embarrass Branson; price gougers; forced Covid leave

By Jackie Cameron

  • As the confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa head towards 1,000, the country has gone into a lockdown for 21 days. President Cyril Ramaphosa has tested negative for the virus after he was advised to take a test following engagements with a “wide range” of people. His office has assured the country that Ramaphosa is well.
  • As the nation-wide lockdown took effect from midnight on Thursday, the government reminded employers they can enforce leave over this period. Thembinkosi Mkalipi, Chief Director: Labour Relations, has raised the possibility of compulsory leave for many struggling businesses. Mkalipi says that during the lockdown period, an employee may be requested by the employer to take annual leave from his/her annual leave credits. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act recognises certain forms of leave, which may, depending on the circumstances, be applicable to the employee’s absence as a result of Covid-19, says Mkalipi.
  • As has happened in other countries, the shutdown is likely to put businesses under severe strain. Mr Price has warned of no sales for the next three weeks. Mr Price said on Thursday its sales have declined 22.1% since President Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on March 15 following the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country, reports Reuters. Mr Price, known for its no-frills clothing and furniture stores, said sales are for the period starting March 16 to March 24 and it anticipates making no sales in South Africa over the 21-day lockdown period, which starts on Thursday, says the newswire. Troubled retail group Edcon, meanwhile, is reportedly unable to pay its suppliers.
  • Spar and Pick n Pay are on a list of alleged price gougers, with the Competition Commission asking the CEOs of the biggest retailers to avoid exploiting consumers – or face harsh treatment from the government. The Competition Commission’s Tembinkosi Bonakele told journalists: “We see opportunistic behaviour… I am worried about it… it is not a very big crisis… but if it continues and gets worse, there may need to be specific interventions.” Tembinkosi told Cape Talk there was an upsurge of complaints in run up to the lockdown, with prices shooting up for face masks, alcohol wipes and also essentials, like rice, cooking oil and toilet paper. About 65% of retail is through the top four retail chains, he said, adding that his organisation had a a conference call with the CEOs of these companies, appealing to them to cooperate. He has warned that the government will take action against retailers who exploit customers.
  • British billionaire Richard Branson is at the centre of a storm for trying to dip into taxpayers’ funds amid the coronavirus crisis. Compare this to the Rupert and Oppenheimer families, which have each pledged R1bn to help small businesses in South Africa survive the unprecedented shutdown. Three of Britain’s best-known billionaires are battling a backlash over their response to the spread of coronavirus, says Bloomberg. Branson’s request for a government bailout, staff dismissals at Philip Green’s retail empire and Mike Ashley’s attempt to keep his sporting goods stores open in defiance of government guidance provoked furious responses from politicians and the public, it reports. Branson faced a social media firestorm after Virgin Atlantic called for as much as £7.5 billion in aid for the aviation industry and appealed to its workers to take unpaid leave, it adds.
  • European markets perked up on expectations that governments will work hard to reignite economic activity after the coronavirus has been brought under control. The Stoxx 600 Index rose 8.4% to close at its highest level in two weeks, reports Bloomberg. Germany’s DAX Index jumped 11% as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said it is evaluating measures to help revive the economy after the coronavirus crisis subsides, it says. The FTSE 100, CAC 40 and FTSE MIB were all up more than 8%. Signs that the US Congress is close to agreeing on a spending bill buoyed sentiment, eclipsing earlier reports showing services and manufacturing indexes in the euro area dropped to a record low, adds Bloomberg.
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