The COVID-19 pandemic, which first hit South Africa in March 2020, has hit local telecommunications companies hard and forced them to adapt the way they work.
Over the past year, South Africa has recorded over 1.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and the death toll is approaching 40,000. The second wave has been particularly severe, with the number of daily cases peaking above 20,000 for the first time earlier this month.
Many hospitals have reached capacity and funeral parlours are struggling to cope with the increased number of deaths. The situation is so severe that President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved the country back to lockdown level 3, which included a ban on alcohol sales, to try to curb the spread of the virus.
While telecommunications companies are benefitting financially from higher demand for their services during the lockdown, they have also been hard hit by the pandemic. They have been forced to change their operating models to support remote working and support employees during the pandemic.
To gain more insight into this issue, MyBroadband asked South Africa’s prominent telecommunications how the second wave has impacted their operations and staff.
MTN South Africa spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan said 451 of their employees have contracted COVID-19 since the virus hit South Africa. “We currently have 36 active COVID-19 cases with six deaths reported since the virus was detected,” she said.
“We are seeing a slight increase in infections in the second wave, however, strict adherence to safety protocols has ensured that there has been no impact on our operations.” Towards the end of 2020, during Level 1, MTN SA began preparing their workspaces for their new way of working.
“MTN SA had plans to move down to level Amber of the company’s Reintegration Directive in line with various protocols. One such requirement was to actively manage the capacity of our buildings, so we could be sure to maintain the necessary social distancing,” O’Sullivan said.
“This is in line with both government regulations as well as our commitment to protect the health and safety of our people. However, due to the introduction of level 3 lockdown regulations, MTN SA has paused the reintegration into the workplace until further notice.”
MTN’s philosophy is that post COVID-19, those who can work from home and are happy to work from home will be encouraged to continue working remotely.
Vodacom said it has seen an increase in COVID-related deaths, like the rest of the country, during the second wave. “The safety of Vodacom’s staff and customers remains the company’s number one priority, and we continue to operate in line with the latest government protocols,” it said.
“Our work from home policy for staff remains in place as we take a hybrid approach to being in the workplace, with limited occupancy allowed in our offices.”
Vodacom said while the second wave of the pandemic has not negatively impacted their business operations, the safety of staff and customers remains their highest priority.
Cell C has implemented a remote working model where most staff are working from home. Where the nature of work requires employees to report to the workplace, the company has continued to comply with safety protocols and where there have been reported cases of infection, the stipulated quarantine guidelines, and closure of facilities to deep clean has occurred.
Cell C said there has been an increase in the number of cases in Cell C and since the start of the second wave. “We have unfortunately had one fatality to date, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to two,” Cell C said.
Liquid Telecom said with the second wave, they have become even more cautious as an organisation and taken the necessary precautions.
“We have been sending regular communications to all staff informing them to abide by the precautions as stipulated by the government and requested employees to take an additional quarantine period and continue working from home, especially if they had travelled during the festive period,” the company said.
“We had initiated a work-from-home policy from the onset of the initial lockdown last year in March 2020. We have robust policies that support our employees working comfortably from their homes and have been doing so since then.”
The company said there has been no additional impact to the operations due to the second wave. “Our employees continue to work from home, however, provisions have been made to accommodate 50% of the essential staff to return to the office, should they so wish. These measures have been implemented across all our offices to ensure social distancing,” it said.
Telkom said it has seen an increase in cases in line with the national increase in COVID-19 cases. “At this stage, we have not had an impact on operations as we have kept our non-customer facing employees working from home and have made the necessary contingency plans for those in the field to ensure business continuity,” Telkom said.