NATIONAL NEWS - The knock-on effects of the novel coronavirus have been minimal for businesses operating between South Africa and China, including importers, according to industry insiders. This was mainly because South Africa is in its off-peak season for imports of Chinese goods.
Also, some importers have stockpiled goods. The virus has killed at least 1,360 people and infected more than 60,000 worldwide.
Restrictions on travel and the shutdown of major factories and ports of entry in affected countries have had a severe effect on imports from China.
Yet South African businesses that rely on shipping products from the country said all was well for now.
But some online shoppers in South Africa might be affected by delivery delays.
Smartphone Shop, an online supplier of Chinese electronics, said it had experienced “huge delays” because of the virus. Huawei South Africa said it had not seen an immediate impact on its operations in the country but had implemented measures among staff and office management to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We have had no impact on our operation in terms of the coronavirus,” said Huawei SA spokesperson Vanashree Govender.
“Our supply chain has been diversified since last year, so we are not immediately feeling any impact of the virus.”
According to the company’s official statement, operations in its offices outside China were continuing as usual, from supply to delivery. Likewise, in South Africa, the company did not anticipate any effect on its operations.
But in terms of its disease control measures, all Chinese employees recently dispatched on overseas assignments, their family members and those in close contact with them are being quarantined outside their places of work to ensure they were not unknowing carriers.
The company said it was closely monitoring their health. All workspaces, including Huawei’s office areas, lifts, staff accommodation, cafeterias and shuttle buses were disinfected employing a protocol specifically designed to target the novel coronavirus, Govender added.
Workplace ventilation had been increased and all employees entering workplaces were now required to disinfect their hands.
The Chinese Association (TCA) in South Africa was optimistic businesses importing goods from China had resilience, but noted the dramatic slowdown of business travel between the two countries.
“There has been a knock-on effect globally on supplies,” said the association’s chair, Erwin Pon.
Major technology companies which closed operations including factories, stores and offices in China were expected to reopen last week, but in some provinces and districts, officials told companies not to resume work until 1 March.
“We know that some factories have been closed for a bit longer but, fortunately, some have reopened and are currently playing catch-up,” said Pon.
“The impact we have seen has been no business travel to and from China, which has slowed down dramatically, so I think that will have an effect on overseas business with China.
“Our local businesses have sufficient stock for now.”
China Malls around the country remained as busy as usual, as did the wholesalers they supplied, he added. This month, TCA cancelled its annual Chinese new year celebrations in solidarity with those affected by the virus.
Managing director of China Trader, an import-export solutions company based in Johannesburg, Vincent Dai said because the virus outbreak coincided with the off-peak season for imports to SA, it was unlikely importers would run out of supplies.
“We believe once the two new hospitals start operating, the situation will get better soon,” he said.
But the two hospitals built in record time by China’s government in response to the outbreak did not appear to be fully operational last week, only treating half as many patients as planned. Also cushioning the blow was that Wuhan, where the outbreak began, is not an export province.
“Most imports to SA are from Fujian, Zhejiang [and] Guangdong,” said Dai.