KZN premier tells business: 'Keep calm, don't panic over coronavirus'

09 March 2020 - 14:14 By LWANDILE BHENGU
KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala says business owners must not panic amid the confirmed coronavirus cases in the country.
KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala says business owners must not panic amid the confirmed coronavirus cases in the country.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala has urged businesses not to panic amid the coronavirus cases reported in SA.

Zikalala was addressing business leaders at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban on Monday at a breakfast following the  provincial budget speech where the province's treasury outlined its R138bn budget for 2020.

“We want to request all our people not to panic. Our message to the business community is not to panic. Let's continue working, and where possible let's encourage people to test, and where necessary let's support our people,” said Zikalala.

To date, three people have tested positive for the virus, two in KwaZulu-Natal and one in Gauteng. They were part of a group of 10 who returned from a trip to Italy at the beginning of March.

Zikalala assured delegates that though there might be an impact on the province's economy, it was not expected to be large scale, and he said there were contingency plans.

“I must not lie. This is going to have an economic impact. As you have seen, some countries are beginning to say 'let's not encourage outbound travel', and that is going to have an impact on tourism. We are not that affected as of now, but we have plans to mitigate (the effects on the economy) if necessary,” said the premier.

Absa bank managing executive in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, Ronnie Mbatsane, said  they had seen some effect on business, but it was too early to predict to what extent the virus would affect the economy.

“I think we have seen some effects because we deal with a lot of companies, especially in the manufacturing space, where they have taken a little bit of strain with getting goods outside the country, especially in the Asian markets,” said Mbatsane.

“What that does sometimes is lower production and efficiency in terms of their businesses, but we have not seen a big impact. It is still fresh and new. It's very early to assess the impact on the county but we have seen ant impact on exports,” he said.

MEC for finance Ravi Pillay said a contingency budget to deal with coronavirus-related emergencies was available for the health department if necessary.

“At this stage, the health department is doing it in its line function budget. Health at the moment has the largest budget after education. Of course, we have a contingency fund that is sitting at about R350m. If it is necessary to activate that as part of the response, we will,” said Pillay.