South Africa

PPE production boosts trade with continent, says Patel

Cape Town - Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel says the outbreak of Covid-19 has allowed the country to ramp up the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fight against the virus.

He said this has also boosted trade between South Africa and the rest of the continent.

When Covid-19 hit the country last year in March, the scale of producing masks was low, said Patel, adding that when the demand increased they had to upscale it and bring in small businesses.

“What Covid has done is remind us how important it is to localise, because in March last year the country had a shortage of medical grade masks and other products. When we did an initial check on what our capability is to produce those masks that front-line healthcare workers use, we concluded that at best we could do 6 million masks a month and yet this country’s need was greater than that,” said Patel.

“We worked with companies to see how we could scale up production. By March this year, some 12 months later, we had a production capacity in South Africa of medical-grade masks of some 16 million per month. We have taken it from 6 million to 16 million in a year,” said Patel.

He said they then worked with the clothing and textile industry for the production of fabric masks. This had seen an increase in the production of fabric masks in the sector.

He also told the National Council of Provinces that they went into discussion with other sectors on the manufacturing of hand sanitisers as there was a demand.

“When the Covid pandemic first reached our shores, South Africa did not have significant hand sanitiser production capability. We looked at what could we do to get more hand sanitisers done here in South Africa,” said Patel.

They worked with the sectors in the industries producing alcohol and ethanol for this purpose. When South Africa started producing hand sanitisers, they worked with small businesses to export the products to the African continent.

“We opened up opportunities to some of the small players to export some of these products to other African countries and when we last made available this information publicly we had sold R1.7-billion worth of hand sanitisers and related products to other African countries,” said Patel.

He added that South Africa has become a major supplier of PPE in neighbouring states and the rest of the continent.

He said they were also working on producing a vaccine locally with scientists across the board working on this.

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