Tag: covid-19

Online sales boom expected on Black Friday

By Estelle Sinkins for The Witness

Online retailers are expecting a boom on Black Friday after health experts appealed to shoppers to avoid crowds at shopping centres.

Nicolet Pienaar, the head of market insights at trends analysts GfK South Africa, said retail chains with established online shopping facilities and logistics were likely to be the biggest winners.

“Loyal buyers are putting their trust in the online presence of their preferred offline retailers,” she added. “They feel that the physical presence of these stores means they can follow up with a human if they encounter any problems.”

The battle for consumers’ hard-earned cash is already fierce with many of the large retail chains — including Game, Makro, Clicks, Dischem, Checkers, Pick n Pay and Spar — offering big discounts to shoppers in the lead-up to Black Friday.

John Bradshaw, retail executive for marketing at Pick n Pay, said the company had worked closely with suppliers for months to secure stock.

“We have taken several proactive steps to minimise any overcrowding, which includes extending our Black Friday deals to run over two weeks,” he added.

Shoppers who do want to head to brick and mortar stores can expect retailers to implement strict lockdown guidelines. Bradshaw said Pick n Pay stores would be limiting the number of people in its stores, wiping down trolleys before use, sanitising hands upon arrival, sanitising till points, and providing floor markers for physical distancing.

It’s a similar story at Game and Makro. Brian Leroni, senior vice president group corporate affairs for Massmart, said staff would be marshalling social distancing measures in queues. They will also be managing the number of customers in stores throughout the day.

Desmond Heunis, general manager for the Liberty Midlands Mall in Pietermaritzburg, said the shopping centre had worked closely with retailers to manage Black Friday.

The planning covers security, crowd control and traffic management in conjunction with SAPS, traffic authorities, parking management operators and the on-site management team.

 

By S’thembile Cele for News24

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi has warned that the state-run Unemployment Insurance Fund could collapse if it is forced to again extend special benefits to workers who’ve lost income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government initially committed R40 billion from the fund, which is financed using workers’ monthly contributions, to subsidise the special benefits for three months. The relief, which was given to those whose employers couldn’t afford to pay them or who were forced to take leave, was subsequently extended by a further four months until mid-October. Almost R53 billion has been dispensed to more than 4.7 million people so far.

While there have been reports that the UIF has R140 billion available that could be used to further extend the so-called Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme, much of the money is tied up in investments such as bonds, property and equities, and can’t be easily accessed, according to Nxesi. The fund will also need money to pay out regular unemployment claims to more than 1.5 million people in the near future, he said in an interview.

“If we blow this money on this temporary scheme, what will happen to the ordinary beneficiaries who have put their money into it?” he said. “We cannot collapse this fund.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions earlier this month called for payments to workers in industries that remain adversely affected by virus-related curbs to be extended by a further two months. It noted that the fund has about R60 billion in liquid assets that could be utilized.

“It is far cheaper to invest in saving jobs and companies by extending TERS than to allow thousands of companies to close and retrench millions of workers,” Cosatu said. It conceded that the fund couldn’t provide ongoing support for workers, and called for “a combined package of relief in the form of stimulus, tax relief, and debt relief.”

Cosatu has been at loggerheads with the government over its decision to renege on a three-year pay deal agreed in 2018 by denying civil servants raises this year – a dispute that is now before the courts. The federation has also objected to plans to freeze state workers’ pay for the next three years – a measure the National Treasury has said is necessary to bring burgeoning state debt under control.

Nxesi, whose department oversees the protection of labuor rights, said he is closely monitoring negotiations with the unions, which are handled by the Department of Public Service and Administration.

“My view is that there is a need for a social compact across government to say how are we going to deal with the issue of a salary increment versus the job losses we are seeing,” he said.

The minister also said his department is busy drafting a national employment policy that will aim at dealing with an influx of undocumented foreign nationals, some of whom are exploited by local employers.

“We are looking at the sectors where we can implement quotas for local workers” to be employed as well as safeguard the rights of foreign workers who are legally in the country, he said.

 

Small businesses set to cash in quick on #PayIn30

Source: IOL

A new initiative, #PayIn30, has been launched in an effort to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in South Africa are paid within 30 days.

#PayIn30 is spearheaded by Business for South Africa, the SA SME Fund, and Business Leadership South Africa and supported by, among others, Business Unity SA, the Small Business Institute and the Black Business Council.

About 2.5 million SMEs account for 10.8 million jobs in South Africa. Transunion data points to 6.4 percent of formal SMEs going into bankruptcy (up 50 percent from last year), with 260 000 jobs lost and another 240 000 at risk as they struggle amid the economic fallout from Covid-19.

With a tightening economy, the banks’ payment holidays coming to an end, and the winding down of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme, this was expected to rise to between 10 and 15 percent of small businesses going into business failure next year, with almost a million jobs lost and at risk.

“Covid-19 has made this problem worse,” the business groups said.

 

The rise of the cleaning robots

By James Vincent for The Verge

Airflow is a subject dear to Charlie Strange’s heart.  As the office manager for a Texas facility operated by HVAC manufacturer Goodman, he helps oversee the production of heating, ventilation, and AC units in the world’s fifth-largest factory building — 4.2 million square feet of space, all dedicated to the generation of hot and cold currents and gusts.

But when the pandemic forced Goodman to send thousands of workers home, Strange had to consider airflow anew — specifically, how the eddies and flows inside his Texas plant would affect the work of his latest hire: a cleaning robot named Breezy One that trundles around the gargantuan factory, spraying a fine mist of virus-killing disinfectant onto the surfaces. For office managers looking at a pandemic-tinged future, such considerations could well become routine.

“This robot’s going to be able to clean 200 000 square feet of office and conference rooms in two, maybe two and a half hours,” Strange tells The Verge. “It would take my team all night long to do that — wiping down every surface by hand.”

When Strange unpacked the Breezy One, the first tasks he and the machine’s creators, Build With Robots, had to tackle was a contaminant study — finding out exactly where the bot’s disinfectant mist could clean. To carry out this study, technicians dropped test plates around the plant populated with microbes taken from the compost heap of Kimberly Corbitt, Build With Robots’ head of customer engagement.

“It’s the worst smelling thing you’ve ever smelled in your life,” says Corbitt of her compost. “I dilute it in a giant pitcher of water, put it into a spray bottle, then spray it onto these foam plates. The first time I did it, the total viable count was out of the testable range and I had to dilute it by a factor of 100. My compost is really healthy.”

Before Breezy One could start cleaning, it had to be guided around Goodman’s offices to map the area. GIF: Goodman
Each plate is divided into two halves: one side covered and the other side uncovered. Once the plates have been placed, Breezy One does its thing, spreading a mist of disinfectant around the area. The next day, technicians check to see what percentage of microbes have been killed off, comparing the uncovered half of the plates with the covered half as a control sample. In essence, they’re checking that the disinfectant is getting everywhere it should.

This is why airflow is important, says Strange, as his team had to account for the building’s air conditioning units when checking the spread of the disinfectant around its offices and meeting rooms. “We might slow down the robot or change the route based on the dispersal pattern because of the HVAC or how high the ceiling is,” he says.

Thankfully, Goodman found that Breezy One worked as advertised. “The dispersal pattern on it is very nice, it mists very well, which means [the disinfectant] floats and can get into all those areas,” says Strange. “That’s one of the reasons you want the airflow in the room going, because it helps deliver it around the room, rather than having it shoot straight up and fall straight down.”

The robot itself is about the size of a bulky trash can, with a wheeled base and two large mist-producing jet nozzles on top that stick out like a pair of swiveling eyes. It moves at a steady walking pace, using a combination of LIDAR and 3D cameras to navigate like a self-driving car. And it’s not the only robot making its way into these sorts of shared spaces.

Cleaning machines have come into fashion with the pandemic. Hospitals around the world have been deploying them since the spring, using robots that radiate ultraviolet light to kill germs and viruses rather than “foggers” like Breezy One. Airports and arenas are getting in on the action, too, with the latter using drones that spray disinfectant over stadium seating. Now it seems offices are next. The demand certainly seems to be there, with one US manufacturer, Xenex, saying sales of its UV cleaning robots are up 600 percent compared to 2019.

Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics, the company that makes the autonomous base of Breezy One, tells The Verge that interest in disinfecting robots has taken off swiftly. She says the two main types of machines — UV emitters and foggers — are suited to different markets, with the former better suited for small rooms and the latter working best in larger spaces.

Robots like these will become staple fixtures “in any area that has a large amount of the general public filtering through,” predicts Wise. “There’s just a large need to provide continuous disinfection.” She says, although the pandemic has prompted many companies to investigate these machines. If the robots prove their effectiveness, they’ll likely become a regular part of cleaning operations even after COVID-19 is under control.

“Whether or not it’s COVID, there’s always going to be some next viral thing coming through that [companies] will want to disinfect,” says Wise. “We’re looking at having one at our headquarters for flu season, for example, as I would guess maybe 30 percent of staff ends up out because of flu.”

“I think people should be demanding that these things are in their offices,” she adds.

Some buyers certainly see the robots as investments for an uncertain future. Pamela Ott, deputy city manager for Pleasanton, an affluent city in Alameda County, California, purchased three UV cleaning robots for operation in various government facilities — the city permit office, the library, and senior centre — and says she thinks they’ll be useful long beyond the duration of the pandemic.

“We purchased the robots because we know they’re helpful now and helpful in the long run,” Ott told The Verge. “We look around and we look ahead, and we don’t think COVID is going away, certainly not in the very near future…. And we know any time we can better clean and disinfect our facilities, that’s a good position for us.”

Ott says each of the three machines she purchased from local distributor SNAP Solutions cost around $99,000 but that the price was worth it. “It’s a significant outlay for a city, but it’s our belief that our purchase of the robot is one of the most important steps we can take to ensure the safety of our employees and community members,” says Ott. The makers of Pleasanton’s new cleaning robots, Blue Ocean Robotics, say they’ve sold to a number of customers for use in offices and that interest has also spiked from hotels in recent months.

Gauging how effective these machines actually are at protecting people from COVID is difficult, though. Build With Robots, maker of the Breezy One, claims that the disinfectant its machines use kills 99.9999 percent of bacteria, as well as the novel coronavirus. (The chemical solution in question is a brand known as Aeris Active.) But killing the virus by cleaning surfaces is not the same as safeguarding real-world environments from COVID-19.

Scientists know that the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets — small droplets of saliva, mucus, and other internal fluids that are created when we cough, sneeze, talk, or simply breathe. But the most common ways for these droplets to spread the virus from person to person is still a matter of ongoing investigation. Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 “spreads easily” when people are in close contact with one another, while transmission via contaminated surfaces is “less common,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that means wearing masks and stopping people from crowding together is likely to be more important for hygiene purposes than cleaning desks, door handles, and other surfaces.

Despite this, those buying robots for surface cleaning hope the machines will at least help more than they harm. Strange says that his robots are at least saving the company money. Although Goodman won’t share exactly what it’s paying for Breezy One, Build With Robots says the cost for hiring its machines is between $3,250 and $10,750 a month, depending on the number of robots and the length of the contract. Strange also adds that no workers have been or will be let go because of the machines and that they’re simply taking on work that would have been done during overtime by human staff.

What Strange says is most impressive, though, is how easy it is now to integrate this sort of technology into an ordinary office like those used by Goodman. “I’ve dealt with a lot of automation over a lot of years and I’ve yet to find an honest-to-god fire and forget,” he says. “But if we’d been talking five, seven years ago I’d have had a team of four to keep this thing running. And now I’m just going to have one person moving it from zone to zone. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.”

 

Santam loses Covid court battle

Source: Reuters

A South African court on Tuesday ruled that insurer Santam should pay coronavirus-related claims made by hotel group Ma-Afrika, which it had rejected, according to a written judgement.

Globally, firms like Ma-Afrika, forced to close under coronavirus restrictions, have been fighting the rejection of claims made under business interruption policies. In South Africa, insurers say these policies did not apply to government lockdowns.

Tuesday’s judgement however, following a case brought by the small hotel group and a related restaurant, ordered Santam to pay out on the group’s claims made under an extension of its business interruption policy.

“The applicants have established that they have an existing contractual right to indemnity under the infectious diseases clause to the policies,” the judgement stated.

The judgement said the combined total of business interruption cover for loss of revenue under four policies held by Ma-Afrika’s hotels, and another policy held by the restaurant, stood at 122.43 million rand ($7.94 million).

A spokeswoman for Santam, the country’s largest non-life insurer that has previously indicated it will appeal any decision against it, said the insurer would comment on the news on Wednesday morning.

Other insurers, under pressure from regulators and with their reputations bruised by the dispute, have also been watching the case. It is seen as providing some legal certainty around their obligations in relation to the policies.

Ryan Woolley, CEO of Insurance Claims Africa, a loss adjuster representing over 750 affected firms in South Africa including Ma-Afrika, said the case provided the certainty required to finalise all such disputed claims.

“We believe it is now time for the sector to step up and display the ethical leadership that has been missing from their response to this crisis thus far,” he said in a statement.

Andre Pieterse, chairman and CEO of Ma-Afrika, said the decision would greatly assist his firm and others in his sector to weather the pandemic, and he hoped it bought an end to the litigation.

He also thanked Santam for a payment received under a 1 billion rand initiative the insurer offered to affected clients. The payments were interim relief intended to tide them over while legal battles played out.

 

Source: Creamer Media’s Engineering News

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) will open and start processing the latest and last round of Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) applications from Monday, November 23.

Applications will close at the end of December.

This follows the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the TERS benefits would be extended by another month to October 15.

The TERS was established to assist employees who lost income owing to the coronavirus and the regulations limiting economic activity during the various levels of the lockdown.

Since March, just over R52-billion has been disbursed in 11.5-million payments through more than one-million employers.

By Ben Gilbert for Business Insider US

As the coronavirus pandemic continues around the world, some people are turning to an emerging black market for fake negative test results.

In France, at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport in September, a group of seven people were arrested for selling falsified digital certificates intended to prove negative coronavirus results, the AP reported last week. The group was discovered following an investigation sparked by a traveler leaving France for Ethiopia. The traveler reportedly had a fake digital certificate that claimed they tested negative for the virus.

The group in Paris was reportedly selling the fake test results for $180 (R2,800) to $360 (R5,600) apiece.

In another case, in late October, a group of travelers in Brazil was found with falsified negative test results in an attempt to enter the Fernando de Noronha island group, the AP reported.

Rather than buying fake test results, the group is accused of altering their own results.

In yet another case, in the UK, several gentleman told The Lancashire Telegraph that they had doctored the results of friends’ tests in order to travel. “You can simply get their negative test and change the name and birth date to your own. You also put a test date on which is within the time limit required,” the unnamed man said. “You download the email, change it and then print it.”

Coronavirus diagnoses and deaths continue to climb around the world, and the pandemic has seen a resurgence in recent months in North America and Europe, according to the World Health Organisation. As of November 12, the virus has killed more than 1.2 million people and infected over 51 million people around the globe.

 

200 000 job on the line if SA reverts to Level 3

By Lameez Omarjee for News24

If we move to lockdown Level 3, amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, SA’s economy could shed 200 000 more jobs.
B4SA estimates it would take until 2024 for formal employment levels to return to the pre-Covid levels of employment, if the correct measures are taken.

Government needs to provide certainty that there will not be another hard lockdown to restore and boost investor and consumer confidence.

Another hard lockdown would be detrimental to the SA economy, a shift to lockdown Level 3 in particular would result in 200 000 more job losses, warned Business for South Africa.

The business lobby, representing the majority of SA businesses partnering in their response to Covid-19, on Tuesday issued a statement calling for certainty that government would not implement another hard lockdown amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

In the second quarter 2.2 million jobs were shed, as a result of the hard lockdown (lockdown level 5) which lasted five weeks. Economists expect these job figures to recover during the third quarter, coinciding with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

The South African economy is expected to contract anywhere between 7% and 13% this year- its worst performance in 90 years.

B4SA warned that bankruptcies of small and medium enterprises, which increased from 4% last year to 6.5%, could reach over 10% – this as credit extensions and tax relief expire.

“If all nine provinces remain on Alert Level 1 – the lowest alert level – B4SA estimates a 9.3% decline in GDP for 2020,” the statement read. This figure accounts for the fiscal and monetary policy interventions as well as the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme benefit.

One of its downside scenarios which considers SA moving to lockdown Level 3 from mid-November and December – sees a further 200 000 job losses and a 10.6% decline in GDP for the year.

“We estimate that formal job losses have already reached 1.4 -1.6 million, with a further one million lost in the informal sector, and that it will take until 2024 for formal employment levels to return to the pre-Covid level of employment assuming that we pivot the economy onto a sustainable inclusive growth path,” said B4SA’s steering committee chair Martin Kingston.

“South Africa can ill afford additional job losses and compounded economic difficulty,” he added.

B4SA said certainty that there will not be another hard lockdown would help restore and boost investor and consumer confidence.

B4SA has suggested that instead of a hard lockdown government implement targeted interventions by sector. For example, all industries should remain operational – unless specifically identified as “uniquely high risk”.

Other measures include limiting the numbers of people at social and religious gatherings, and possibly reintroducing an extended curfew. “Reintroducing cigarette or alcohol bans should be avoided due to their significant adverse economic effects,” B4SA said. Appropriate behavioural and safety protocols must also be applied to mass public transport.

 

Fears of a second wave grow

By Mia Lindeque for EWN

There has been a steady rise in COVID-19 cases in South Africa with the last week showing more than 10,000 new infections.

The cumulative number of cases is now at over 737,000, as experts notice a rise in the numbers in the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape and Gauteng.

READ: SA COVID-19 resurgence no surprise due to ‘complacent’ citizens

Scientists said that this could be attributed to super spreader events.

The Eastern Cape has confirmed more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases in just the last week.

ALSO READ: SA can learn from Europe’s COVID-19 second wave, say experts

The Western Cape, once the epicentre of the outbreak, has seen an increase of more than 1,600 new coronavirus cases in the last seven days.

In Gauteng, the number has spiked with more than 1,300 over the same period. In the last seven days, 398 people have died, nearly half of them in the Eastern Cape.

ALSO READ: ‘Exhausted’ Swiss doctors reel as second virus wave hits

As the world focuses on the second wave of infections sweeping Europe, there are concerns that the resurgence in cases here at home could increase rapidly as well.

 

Pfizer leads vaccine race

Source: eNCA

A vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in ongoing Phase 3 trials, the companies announced Monday.

Protection in patients was achieved seven days after the second of two doses, and 28 days after the first, according to preliminary findings.

“The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19,” Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

“We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most,” Bourla added.

Across much of the globe, COVID-19 infections rates are soaring to record highs, with hospital intensive care units filling up and death tolls mounting as well.

Based on supply projections, the companies said they expect to supply up to 50-million vaccine doses globally in 2020, and up to 1.3-billion doses in 2021.

 

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