South African corporates step up to fight coronavirus

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 30 March – 3 April

By Xolisa Phillip

Posted on Monday, 30 March 2020 18:10
Virus Outbreak South Africa
A woman returns from shopping in Thokoza, east of Johannesburg on March 30, 2020. Coronavirus is likely to stimulate demand for home delivery. Themba Hadebe/AP

The spike in demand for hand sanitiser has spurred Sasol to develop a new variant of its alcohol-based chemicals to help manufacturers fill the gap.

“Sasol has prioritised local supply, and prices for South African sales have remained stable,” said Sasol president and CEO Fleetwood Grobler on Monday.

Grobler made the latter point in response to allegations and reports that South African companies are engaging in predatory pricing as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds. In particular, consumers have bemoaned a noticeable increase in their grocery and sanitary products’ bills at food and healthcare retailers respectively.

Cleanliness helps combat virus

The global and domestic demand for alcohol-based hand sanitiser has been triggered by the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to World Health Organisation guidelines, “hand and respiratory hygiene are essential preventive measures” to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

READ MORE: South Africa in lockdown as Coronavirus cases spike

Sasol solves sanitiser supply conundrum

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed integrated chemicals and energy company is a key producer and bulk supplier of high-purity ethanol, isopropanol and n-Propanol alcohols.

Sasol supplies the solvent chemicals, which are crucial ingredients in the manufacturing process for hand sanitiser, globally.

The new solution for the solvent chemicals arose out of the fact that the company has already supplied almost eight million litres of alcohol-based products in the domestic market. However, demand is not showing signs of abating.

In recent weeks, “Sasol has experienced an increase in demand of nearly 400% for alcohol-based products,”  revealed Grobler.

The company will sell its special blend of alcohols to existing and new consumers to “expedite the production and availability” of hand sanitisers. Sasol is working with the department of trade, industry and competition.

Grobler said Sasol is prioritising supply to government entities and other essential services.

READ MORE: Moody’s downgrade forces drastic action from Sasol  

Situation on the ground

South Africa is among the countries whose confirmed coronavirus cases are in the thousands.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown, commencing at midnight on Thursday 26 March, as an emergency measure to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

At last count, the country had more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the majority being in Gauteng (584), the Western Cape (310) and KwaZulu-Natal (167).

Transnet to assist with accommodating homeless

Two emergent challenges of the COVID-19 crisis are ensuring the sufficient supply of alcohol-based hand sanitisers and housing the homeless against the backdrop of the lockdown.

In terms of the latter, citizens are required to be indoors at all times, except when buying food and other essential household items. There is a special dispensation in place for workers in healthcare, retail, food production and media.

The sale of alcohol, cigarettes and other non-essential goods are prohibited.

While Sasol has stepped up to help with the hand sanitiser problem, Transnet will make available properties that have capacity to accommodate more than 600 homeless South Africans during the lockdown.

The state-owned logistics company announced the initiative on Monday as both the private and the public sector ramp up efforts to contain the country’s COVID-19 curve.

Transnet properties are in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.

“These facilities will act as temporary shelters to help reduce the impact of the outbreak. The local governments will provide catering, security and waste removal for all facilities,” according to Transnet.

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