News in South Africa 10th June:
1. 8881 new Covid cases:
The number of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa climbed by 8,881 on Wednesday (June 9), new data from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases shows.
The NICD, a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, pointed to a 16.5% positivity testing rate, while the total number of confirmed cases in the country moved to to 1,712,939.
It has recorded 127 new deaths on Wednesday, taking the total to 57,310.
Worryingly, the country’s most populous and productive province, Gauteng, has recorded the bulk of infections at 5,111 – or 58% of the new cases.
“The increased number of tests and cases, and increased positivity are all evidence of the predicted third surge in Covid-19 cases,” the NICD said in a statement.
South Africa’s largest private medical insurer, Discovery warned its customers in Gauteng over the ‘alarming’ increase in the rate of infections in the province. “As a resident of Gauteng, you are currently at high risk of Covid-19 infection,” it said.
2. No dismissal over no vaccine:
With South Africa’s vaccination drive well underway, the focus has now turned to large companies who have been ramping up their efforts to vaccinate their employees – and may be considering mandatory vaccination policies.
Some companies have already started administering the jab to employees, such as mining firm Impala, which is currently prioritising workers aged 40 and above living with co-morbidities.
Retailer Shoprite earlier in the year also said it would like to see its frontline cashiers prioritised, and has applied for vaccine sites to help the government get as many jabs as possible to the population.
At a recent Nedlac meeting, the government and private sector agreed on vaccine guidelines for the workplace. The policies, which are yet to be signed and gazetted by labour minister Thulas Nxesi, holds that workers should not be dismissed for refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
While employers cannot dismiss workers for refusal to accept the Covid-19 vaccine, employees will have to present valid reasons why they need to be exempt from being vaccinated. Otherwise, companies may have to find alternative plans for workers who choose not to receive their jabs.
Riola Kok, a professional support lawyer at law firm CDH in the employment practice, said, although mandatory vaccination policies may not be possible currently because of limited vaccine availability in the country, companies will begin to seriously consider it once availability becomes more prevalent.
Workers can request to be excluded from vaccine programmes for three main reasons: religious, medical, and cultural beliefs.
3. Further breakdowns at Eskom:
Eskom is in a terrible catch-22 situation, where it desperately needs to do planned maintenance on its ailing power stations to prevent breakdowns, but is being forced to cut this planned maintenance because of the breakdowns.
Eskom was forced to implement Stage 4 load shedding at short notice on Wednesday (June 9), despite having cut the level of planned maintenance at its power stations to just 1 273 megawatts (MW) – an unprecedented low.
This reduction was in place by Monday already, when the utility announced Stage 1 load shedding in the evening peak. This was changed on Wednesday morning when it announced Stage 2 load shedding until Sunday night.
Puzzlingly, its system status bulletin published on Wednesday “forecast” 3 033MW of planned maintenance this week – more than double the level the utility has confirmed is currently out of service for this reason. This is lower than the expected level as at the end of May, which was 4 138MW for this week (and one has to go back to March to find forecasted levels of 2 500MW of planned maintenance this week).
Eskom has clearly cut planned maintenance to what is only absolutely essential due to the continued poor performance of its coal fleet. Had the utility pressed on with its originally planned maintenance, the generation shortfall would be higher than the 2 000MW which necessitates Stage 2 load shedding.
4. Need approval for J&J vaccines:
There are major concerns about the delayed approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with experts worried about its shelf life as South Africa waits for the US Food and Drug Authority (FDA) to approve its use.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) is waiting for the green light from the FDA, with thousands of jabs allocated for South Africa, waiting to be used, mostly with teachers in line to benefit.
The vaccine has been on hold for several weeks after the FDA flagged contaminant issues at J&J production plant in the USA. Local authorities are unable to greenlight the vaccine for use until the FDA gives its approval.
However, while the US body delays the decision, millions of doses are at risk of expiring during the wait. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) said it was putting pressure in the FDA to make a decision.
“And we’ve also been in touch with the head of the FDA, which is a political appointee. So we’re trying to pressurise the FDA both from the technical staff point of view and from the political side. I also know that many other organisations are sharing our concerns and are also asking the FDA, the same question,” she added.
5. SAB to start up investments:
SA Breweries, part of AB InBev, has reinstated its investment programme that was cancelled last year, allocating R2bn for its home operations, the company said.
The maker of Carling Black Label and Castle Lager beer had cancelled R2.5bn for the 2020 financial year and in January cancelled a further R2.5bn of investment earmarked for 2021 due to a challenging operating environment, regulatory uncertainty and a third local ban on alcohol sales in the country.
The capital injection is earmarked for projects to be completed in the financial year 2022. Projects include upgrades to operating facilities, installation of new equipment at selected plants, product innovations and other necessary operating systems, SAB said in a statement.
“The move to implement reasonable measures, as we continue to navigate the pandemic, is a welcomed signal that we can expect to see more consultation in the future and that blanket bans will be a thing of the past,” SAB VP finance and legal Richard Rivett-Carnac said.