Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, has applaud South African’s resourcefulness as he announced some of the steps companies have taken to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators domestically.
Speaking at the Economic Cluster council briefing on Friday 29 May, Patel said that with the economy opening up significantly as Alert Level 3 gets underway on 1 June, millions of South Africans will return to work and therefore the rate of infection is likely to spread, however he is comfortable knowing that local manufacturers are coming to the party and producing the critical equipment.
Patel said that companies such as U-Mask, alongside others, would be producing 31 million masks a month by the end of June.
“That’s a million masks every day, Monday to Sunday, that will be running off the production line,” he said.
He also said that the resourcefulness of sectors that have been severely affected by the lockdown’s barrier on trade, such as the motorcar and alcohol industries, had been able to pivot their offerings and contribute to the fight against COVID-19.
“Ford made an offer to produce face shields free of charge for the public sector, and alcohol manufacturers will provide alcohol that goes into the production of hand sanitiser.”
He added that cloth face masks were being stitched together by local seamstresses and textile companies all over the country, with particular recognition worthy of being afforded to township businesses who have been doing with with aplomb.
The necessity for the local manufacturing of such equipment is paramount to containing the spread of the virus due to the global scramble to procure PPE leading to shortages in many countries, including South Africa.
He said that one of the most valuable contributions by local manufacturers has been the push to produce ventilators, which are as essential as it gets when it comes to keeping the most vulnerable and severely affected COVID-19 patients alive.
“Producing more ventilators is a necessity,” he said. “They range from Ambu-bags to nasal-canular equipment, and then there are more invasive ones that are used in critical care when nothing else works.”
The National Ventilator Project was launched in April,” said. “We tried to procure them [ventilators from abroad for import] but everyone was chasing the same product and we couldn’t get them into South Africa. When the pandemic hit, we had no ventilators available.”
“South Africans are resourceful and we reached out to the public and many have come forward saying that they are able to produce ventilators.”
He said that the process of producing and getting ventilators into the supply chain domestically is well underway.
“We want three prototypes finalised, with production set to begin in June. By August we hope to have the target of 20 000 ventilators. It will go through a fast track regulatory control process.”
He noted that while local manufacturer ramp up production of these critical articles, government would continue to try and establish supply chains with international producers as a temporary measure to ensure that there is never a shortage of the necessary equipment.
He announced that R80 million had been allocated to the Black Business Fund (BBF) that will assist with the local production of such equipment within financially vulnerable spheres.
“The National Empowerment Fund has put aside R80 million for the Black Business Fund.,” he said. Over 300 applications have been received, which overwhelmed the fund initially and now they have some extra funds to support the endeavour.”