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E-commerce sector requests home deliveries of non-essential goods

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Minister of trade, industry and competition Ebrahim Patel.
Minister of trade, industry and competition Ebrahim Patel.

South African logistics and e-commerce businesses wrote an open letter to the minister of trade and industry, Ebrahim Patel on Tuesday, 7 April,  requesting home deliveries of non-essential goods to be allowed during the lockdown.

In a statement, the businesses say this request, driven by uAfrica’s Andy Higgins, stems from the heavy trade and transport restrictions put in place during the national lockdown brought about by the global COVID-19 crisis.

The letter addresses the ban on the sale and home delivery of non-essential goods via e-commerce and calls for the lifting of this ban, in order to assist South Africans during the lockdown period, as well as support many small businesses that are now on the brink of collapse.

The letter also advocates that this endeavour would add great value to society and adds a minimal risk of spreading the virus as e-commerce allows for the sale of goods without social interaction, and the logistics industry has already adopted the necessary preventive measures to avoid the transmission of COVID-19 with the home delivery of essential goods.

“We would argue that by allowing all goods – including those deemed to be non-essential – to be transported domestically by professional courier companies, will allow many businesses to continue to operate and provide a valuable service to society while not adding undue risk to the further spread of the virus,” the letter states.

Furthermore, many drivers stand to lose their jobs if they are not able to fulfil enough daily shipments provided by essential goods alone, it adds.

At this point in time, close to 4 000 companies have signed the letter. Many desperate pleas and comments have also been received in support of the motion; many businesses will need to retrench employees, most do not have any form of income, and others may need to shut down completely, the businesses say.

“We can play a vital part in not only preventing the spread of the virus but ensuring the well-being of South Africans – please allow us to do this,” it adds.

The full open letter is published below:

The Minister of Trade and Industry

The Honorable Ebrahim Patel

7th April 2020

Dear Honorable Minister,

Re: Request to allow the domestic transport of all goods with no human contact.

We write as concerned South African businesses operating in the local logistics sector. We are proud of the proactive response the South African government has taken to address the Covid-19 crisis, especially when compared to many other so-called first world countries. We understand we are living in extraordinary times and saving lives can and must be our priority. We however also believe the “cure” cannot be more detrimental to society than the virus itself and a balance needs to be obtained between extreme lockdown measures and protecting human well-being as well as the economy – a deterioration of which can also ultimately lead to the loss of lives.

We understand the most effective tool we have right now to fight the virus is to eliminate human contact as far as possible. We hope in time, ubiquitous testing with contact tracing, effective treatments and ultimately a vaccine are additional tools that will be instrumental in fighting the virus.

Right now the vast majority of South Africans remain free of the virus and are adhering to the regulations imposed by the government by staying at home. Families across the country are attempting to go on with their everyday lives, within the constraints of being home-bound. Those that can, have set up home offices. Many children are likely to be schooled from home and will be requiring school supplies. With the onset of cooler weather, warm clothes and bedding is also needed. Access to non-essential home supplies will assist South Africans to continue with their activities at home for any period of lockdown. Furthermore, the mental well-being of people can be improved by having access to certain non-essential goods such as devices for home entertainment and other items to remain occupied and healthy at home.

The logistics sector supports many micro businesses that would be able to continue to operate through the lockdown without human contact including:

  • All forms of eCommerce.
  • Online retailers – tens of thousands of online merchants are able to operate remotely.
  • Offline retailers – physical stores will be able to make use of courier services for home deliveries thereby preventing people from making unnecessary trips and reducing their risk of exposure.

For the most part, these micro businesses are not eligible for UIF or other government programmes available to support small businesses with many of these businesses currently on the brink of collapse.

As an essential service, the logistics industry’s workforce is already deployed – fortunately, most drivers own their own delivery vehicles and do not need to make use of public transport to get to work. Unfortunately, with essential goods exclusively permitted to be transported, the costs to support this infrastructure are similar to a fully operational scenario but with income for these drivers significantly lower and currently unsustainable. Extending a lockdown with the current restrictions will ultimately result in job losses for many of these drivers.

The logistics industry has already taken proactive measures to prevent transmission of the virus:

  • Drivers are tested daily for any symptoms.
  • Drivers have been supplied with face masks.
  • Hand sanitiser is used before and after every collection / delivery.
  • Parcels are sanitised.
  • All interactions are contactless with sufficient separation between the driver and the sender/recipient.

We would argue that by allowing all goods – including those deemed to be non-essential – to be transported domestically by professional courier companies, will allow many businesses to continue to operate and provide a valuable service to society while not adding undue risk to the further spread of the virus.

We hereby request that you seriously consider allowing approved courier companies adhering to stringent preventative measures to transport all goods domestically. We can play a vital part in not only preventing the spread of the virus, but ensuring the well-being of South Africans - please allow us to do this.

Yours sincerely,

Concerned Business

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