Businesses get used to 'new normal' as strict health measures become part of everyday service

A few cars can be seen on the N1 in Johannesburg yesterday on the first work day under lockdown's stage 4. / ANTONIO MUCHAVE
A few cars can be seen on the N1 in Johannesburg yesterday on the first work day under lockdown's stage 4. / ANTONIO MUCHAVE

It was just after 7am yesterday when I pulled up to fill the tank at a Total petrol station just outside Cosmo City, Johannesburg north, when I hear someone say: "Where is his mask? Did you ask him about his mask?"

It was the manager reminding a petrol attendant of the new requirements for people to wear face masks when they go outside under the new level 4 lockdown restrictions.

"It's a new way. Now, I'm going to die for a mask," he says when he comes to assist me.

He has been servicing scores of motorists who yesterday were returning to office after five weeks of lockdown after the government decided on a phased opening of the economy.

"I forget these things my brother. Now we just sanitise, ask people for masks while filling up their cars. I'll get used to it," he says, asking me whether he can tap my bank card to make the payment.

He is not the only one who has to get used to this new normal. Companies allowed to operate under level 4 lockdown have to do this as well for their employees and customers.

Several industries including manufacturing, automotive, mining, information technology and others have all been given a green light to open for business.

Ford Motor Company's assembly plant in Silverton, Pretoria, is taking precautionary measures. Their plant has been inactive for almost the entire 40 days and have decided to use this week to clean and sanitise the manufacturing area.

"We arrived here at 6.30am in the morning to clean the area because no one has been here since the lockdown," says one of the cleaners.

"As you can see the parking is empty, it's just us here cleaning the area inside. The workers are not here."

The manufacturing plant, according to a call centre agent, is "still under lockdown" and this, she says, will remain in effect until further notice.

Ford said they would not comment and referred Sowetan to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA. The association had not responded to questions at the time of going to print.

Up the road at the busy town in Silverton, Desmond is counting the gas bottles they currently have in stock. He works at a Handigas shop where they provide gas for heaters, stoves and fridges.

"Yes, we just opened today. These are some of our first customers, so I'm just counting these to make sure none is missing," he says, scribbling on his clipboard.

"What health measures are you taking to ensure safety for customers here?" I asked him as no one offered me any sanitiser when I arrived. "We cleaned the area and we do have sanitisers. Eish, it's just that I forgot, you see."

Most companies in Pretoria, from Silverton just outside Mamelodi all the way to the CBD, are either closed or running on skeleton staff, especially those in manufacturing. Autobodies and tyre shops were operating in full capacity.

The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union (Sactwu) had not responded to questions by the time of going to print.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said the Dwarsriver Mine in Limpopo had reported that a miner had tested positive for Covid-19.

This is the first confirmed case in mining industry.

NUM's north east regional secretary Phillip Mankge said the mine had confirmed to them that a woman was sent for testing after exhibiting high temperatures on April 26, and her results came back on Sunday confirming that she was positive.

Mankge said they had called for the mine to shut down operations.

Dwarsriver Mine had not responded at the time of going to print.

Thenjiwe Mahlangu, who had to return to work yesterday, said: "I am happy that I'll get a salary and be able to provide for my family, but at the same time, I am scared. More and more people are getting the virus, especially here in Joburg."

Mahlangu said her children were in the care of her mother. "I heard that old people and young children are the ones most at risk, going to work every day means I am putting them at risk ... It feels like I have to choose if my family will have food or get corona," she said. - Additional Reporting by Nonkululeko Njilo

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