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Essential service providers panic as COVID-19 portal goes offline

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The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition Web site, which allows companies to apply for exemption to operate during the COVID-19 lockdown, was inaccessible on Thursday due to high volumes of traffic.

As a result, some companies were thrown into panic, urging police and the army to consider the hiccup as they enforce the nationwide lockdown.

The department had announced that businesses can get clarification on what qualifies as essential during the 21-day COVID-19 lockdown, by seeking approval through its Biz Portal.

The department confirmed today that the Web site went offline yesterday as a result of high traffic volumes.

As of publication this morning, the site was back up and running.

“More than 10 000 companies have already registered as providers of essential goods and services. Most of these have been in food supply, medical and pharmaceutical services and transport services. We will provide further updates on communication platforms as to the number of registered businesses during the lockdown period,” said the department in a statement.

After a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, president Cyril Ramaphosa ordered a nationwide lockdown, restricting travel, leisure, work, churchgoing and other aspects of life.

The order forces “non-essential” businesses to shut down for three weeks.

For companies to trade during the lockdown, they have to apply through Biz Portal in terms of the regulations published on Wednesday by minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in Regulation Gazette No 11062. However, it proved difficult for firms to fulfil this requirement yesterday.

The National Employers Association of South Africa (NEASA), an employers’ representation firm with over 10 000 members, was one the organisations affected by the overloaded site.

Gerhard Papenfuss, chief executive of NEASA, said yesterday the portal had not been functional at any stage and even company registration numbers were reflected as incorrect.

It is absolutely mindboggling that government compels essential services businesses to register on a Web site in order to continue essential services required to keep the country afloat during the lockdown, but does not provide an effective mechanism for them to do so,” he said.

Since the detail and processes surrounding compliance with these regulations are not yet clear or functional, many essential businesses may not have been able to comply with the requirements by the time the lockdown is initiated tonight [Thursday].”

Papenfuss appealed to the SAPS, SANDF and Metro Police to, “in the enforcement of the regulations, especially during the early stages of the lockdown, take these practical difficulties into consideration”.

The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, however, called for calm, saying: “We ask that companies be patient through the registration process, as there are large volumes presently being experienced.

“No companies will be prejudiced by any delay in the system. The service will continue to run tomorrow [Friday] and beyond, and it is not a requirement that companies complete registration before the lockdown begins.”

The Biz Portal, a single integrated company registration online platform, was launched in November by minister of trade, industry and competition Ebrahim Patel.

It was established to allow entrepreneurs to register a company within a day in South Africa. The digital platform houses all business-related services from various public entities in the country.

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