VWSA MD says testing in NMB has to be ramped up

Economic development and tourism MEC Mlungisi Mvoko with Isuzu SA CEO and MD Michael Sacke and GMSA general manager of facilities Angus Clark during a tour of the Isuzu plant in Struandale onFriday
Economic development and tourism MEC Mlungisi Mvoko with Isuzu SA CEO and MD Michael Sacke and GMSA general manager of facilities Angus Clark during a tour of the Isuzu plant in Struandale onFriday

More virus testing needs to be done in Nelson Mandela Bay.

This was the call from Volkswagen SA MD Thomas Schaefer, who said testing in the city was below average.

Schaefer was speaking during an oversight visit by economic development & tourism MEC Mlungisi Mvoko to factories in the automotive industry on Friday.

“Testing needs to happen timeously,” he said.

“We’ve been working with a lab in PE for a few weeks.

“We were told that PE should be testing 2,000 people a day but was testing 500 per day,” Schaefer said.

With thermal cameras installed and 600 disinfectant stations at the Uitenhage plant, Schaefer said systems had been put in place to ensure workers’ safety.

But he warned that this would come to naught should testing in the city not be ramped up.

Earlier in May, Schaefer announced that VWSA had secured R107m grant funding from the German federal ministry for economic co-operation and development (BMZ) for the project.

On Friday, he announced the funding had arrived and some would be used to ramp up testing.

“As part of the German funding, we’re working on purchasing testing machines.

“We have a plan which can be executed without any funding from the government.

“We’ve discussed this with the labs and need the premier to support this and I think East London needs to do the same.”

The Eastern Cape has a Covid-19 testing backlog, with 22,804 samples yet to be processed by May 25.

During an oversight visit by members of the Bhisho legislature, a nurse said because of the volumes of tests done, results were released only after five to eight days.

Schaefer said automotive companies could not afford to lose staff for prolonged periods.

It’s crucial to have testing capacity.

“Results need to come out in 24 hours.

“We’re flying blind at the moment.

“We need to get testing really quickly.

“The way it’s happening within the command council isn’t really working.

“If we start isolating people coming in for seven, eight days, then we wouldn’t have work staff,” Schaefer said.

As part of checking on plant readiness in the automotive sector before the country moves to alert level three, Mvoko also visited Isuzu Motors SA in Struandale and Lumotech in Uitenhage.

Isuzu SA CEO and MD Michael Sacke told Mvoko the company was operating with only 50% of its workforce.

The company was preparing to optimise its operations with its full workforce in place once the level three regulations took effect.

“Since resuming operations under alert level four, we have put strict health and safety measures in place at all our Isuzu sites.

“It is absolutely imperative that we protect the health and welfare of our employees, on-site contractors and those visiting our facilities and we are committed to the implementation, adherence and monitoring of the safety and health regulations which have been instituted by the government,” Sacke said.

Other challenges facing the company included ageing infrastructure, as well as the ongoing drought.

He added that because the company had been shut down for nearly two months, it needed between R50m to R80m to keep the plant going.

Lumotech MD Wolfgang Ropertz also took Mvoko on a site tour.

He said the plant, which supplies headlights and tail lights to Ford SA, Totoya, VWSA and Hella, was not fully operational yet and was getting ready for reopening next week.

After the walkabouts, Mvoko said he was happy with the preparations he had seen.

The sectors raised concerns about the drought in Nelson Mandela Bay, as dam levels continuously drop and the city battles ailing infrastructure and a water leaks crisis.

Mvoko said the metro had to deal with the issue seriously and approach private business on how they could partner and work together.

“I think there’s an element of downplaying the water situation here but it is serious and needs urgent attention,” he said.

Mvoko said all companies he visited on Friday had taken the necessary precautions to ensure workers’ safety.

“It’ll be interesting to see how they manage when demand for products doubles and increases and to see how they maintain the safety standards.

“I’ll return and see how they get on,” Mvoko said.