JOHANNESBURG – The Government is planning to draw on local manufacturing and scientific expertise to produce essential medical equipment to respond to Covid-19.

This could boost job creation and domestic output as the economy was expected to decline to unprecedented levels as productivity stalled to curb the spread of the virus.Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel said on Saturday that the government would be working with local companies and innovators to manufacture face masks and much-needed ventilators instead of depending on scant imports.

President Cyril Ramaphosa allocated R20billion expenditure on efforts to directly address the pandemic – including ventilators, medicine and personal protective equipment – from the R500bn economic recovery package he announced last week.

Patel said his department had been working with the National Ventilator Project to bring together all local efforts using a government strategy that consists of three elements.

“The first element is to get ventilators that are required by the healthcare system anywhere in the world; we want to buy them. But, of course, everyone wants a ventilator right now and so there is an enormous global shortage of ventilators,” Patel said.

“The second element of our work is to stimulate the production and manufacturing of ventilators using global prototypes. Where it is available, we take the technologies being developed elsewhere and we encourage local manufacturers using those specifications to make those ventilators here.

“The third element is to use South African know-how and ingenuity. We are bringing the technology and the technical know-how of a team of capable scientists and technologists working on the Square Kilometre Array and they are being put to use to take all the ideas and run them through a stress-testing exercise.”

Patel outlined the industries that would be allowed to operate when the lockdown restrictions were eased from Level 5 to Level 4 from Friday to allow limited economic activity.

The easing of the regulations would see at least 1.5 million workers in manufacturing, construction, agriculture, retail and fast-food returning to work after five weeks of the country’s stringent national lockdown.

Patel said the government hoped to make a formal announcement about the progress of ventilator projects within the next few weeks, before putting them into incubation for further development and production.

“So that before the peak of Covid-19 in South Africa affects our population, we would have begun to produce ventilators here using South African technologies, know-how and South African workers,” Patel said.

“We are using the opportunity to create jobs and to create industrial output for South Africa. And very importantly, we have a responsibility to the rest of the African continent to produce on scale both for the South African market and for our neighbours.” Countries such as Germany and the US have instructed their car manufacturers to make ventilators for Covid-19 patients.


By Siphelele Dludla