News in South Africa 11th October:

1. Digital vaccine certification struggles:

South Africa’s digital Covid-19 vaccine certificate system is experiencing teething problems following its launch on Friday. The health department says it will be resending all Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) numbers to assist people who are struggling to access their certificates.

Digital vaccine certification struggles
Image taken by: Ketut Subiyanto

The launch of South Africa’s digital Covid-19 vaccine certificate on Friday – following an earlier fragmented release during live testing – has been welcomed as an important step in standardising proof of vaccination.

Although government has stood firm on its promise to keep Covid-19 vaccinations voluntary, it has left the private sector to make its own choices when it comes to unvaccinated individuals.

Social gatherings, sporting fixtures, music festivals, and shops are just a few examples listed by health minister Joe Phaahla as events and facilities which may impose a proof of vaccination policy. The digital vaccine certificate, which features a scannable QR that’s hard to forge, will also assist international travel.

But the system isn’t operating as intended. Users are still receiving error messages, indicating a “network issue” or unrecognisable vaccination number.

The health department confirmed that a “high volume of people trying to access and download their digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates” was “affecting the network and responsiveness of the system”.

In addition to the technical issues, some users report never having received a vaccination number through the EVDS system. This includes some healthcare workers vaccinated under the Sisonke Programme. The digital Covid-19 vaccine certificate can’t be accessed without a valid EVDS number.

The health department hopes that resending EVDS codes to everybody who has been vaccinated will solve this issue and ease the strain on the site. The EVDS project manager, Milani Wolmarans, confirmed during the system’s official launch on Friday that SMSes would be sent out over the next few days.

2. SA officially off UK red list:

As of Monday 11 October, South Africans travelling to the United Kingdom will no longer have to endure an expensive 10-day hotel quarantine, as Covid-related entry rules have been eased.

The UK government noted that South Africa has been added to the list of countries and territories with approved proof of vaccination, as of 04h00 Monday 11 October. “If you arrived in England before then, you must follow the rules for people who are not fully vaccinated. If you arrive after that, you can use a vaccine certificate to prove your vaccination status.”

UK Health and Social Care secretary Sajid Javid said: “We’re now making it easier and cheaper for people to travel by allowing fully vaccinated travellers from non-red list countries to use lateral flow tests on day two of arrival, as long as they provide proof of use.”

Eligible full-vaccinated passengers and eligible under 18s returning can enter the UK with just a day 2 test. Before you arrive in the UK, you must book a travel test that takes place on or before day 2 after your arrival. The tests cost between R850 and R1,000.

You do not have to quarantine when you arrive in the UK, provided you have proof of your vaccination status. Children aged 4 and under do not need to take this test.

“Typically you’ll have to wait 24 to 36 hours to get your test result. Check with providers what their turnaround time is before you book your test,” the UK government said.

Approved vaccines

You must have had a complete course of one of the following vaccines at least 14 days before you arrive in England:

  • Oxford/AstraZeneca
  • Pfizer BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Janssen

However, minister of health, Dr Joe Phaahla said Friday that the country’s newly launched digital vaccine passport, will be accepted by the UK as proof of vaccination.

South African travel agencies are reporting a surge in reservations for travel to and from Britain, Bloomberg said. Some companies said they were being overwhelmed by the number of people looking to travel since the UK announced on Thursday it would lift restrictions on arrivals from 47 countries, including South Africa.

3. Net tightening on PPE corruption:

Two important state institutions on Friday dropped unexpected media statements that suggest that the net is closing in on some of the fogging and PPE disinfectant companies exposed, over past months.

First came a statement from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), which announced an “investigation under way” into fraud and/or corruption by the SAPS “in the procurement of PPE [personal protective equipment] between April and July 2020”. 

This is a surprising turn of events after police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo has repeatedly claimed that the SAPS had been cleared of irregularities concerning the R1.6-billion it spent on PPE in 2020.  

In recent weeks Daily Maverick’s investigation has focused on one company in particular, Red Roses Africa, which netted R515-million from the sale of gloves and disinfectant alone.  

However, from the reports of the SAPS head of internal audit, Major-General DT Nkosi, it is clear that Red Roses was by no means the only company that made money by price gouging on the costs of PPE. 

Confirming this, Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Nomthandazo Mbambo said that “evidence is being collected against a number of companies; of which search and seizure operations were conducted and the seized items & articles are now being analysed.” 

Then, in another significant move, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) also announced on Friday that it had “recently been focusing on 52 non-compliant companies that received R1-billion in contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other Covid-19 related services”.

Like the Hawks, in its statement SARS avoided naming names, but it reported that “11 companies have been convicted, seven cases are currently on the court roll, 29 cases are with the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) for the drafting of charge sheets and/or warrant of arrests, while five case dockets are being processed by the Hawks.”

SARS claims to have already “recovered R170-million in unpaid taxes linked to PPE contracts, and R500-million in assets (including cash) are under preservation orders”.

Significantly, again without naming names, SARS reported “investigating 33 entities linked to politically exposed persons”, presumably code for companies that have links to politicians, senior government officials and politically connected businesspeople. 

4. Sanral posted annual loss of R14.5bil:

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has published its latest integrated annual report (totalling 368 pages) for the year ended March 31, 2021, which shows that its total liabilities are a gargantuan R140.4 billion (2020: R130.6 billion).

Sanral is not only facing mounting objections to the paying of tolls, but is also facing mounting liabilities. Cabinet has been tasked with making a decision on the future of the e-tolls scheme in Gauteng.

While cabinet dithers, the liability to be met steadily grows.

One would think that the major liability would be debt, sitting at R45.9 billion (2020: R47.8 billion). But no, there is a liability referred to as ‘deferred income’, which at the end of the financial year is R79 billion (2020: R68 billion), representing 56.3% of total liabilities (2020: 52.1%).

Deferred income is explained in Note 19 to the annual financial statements as consisting of “deferred government grants and advances from concession contracts”.

The prepayments on concession contracts “are deferred over the life of the concession”.

Sanral contract partners (concession contracts) act as an alternative means for long-term financing to operate and improve the national road network infrastructure. Costs are recovered through toll charges (though considering the e-toll impasse, it is more likely they are ‘anticipated to be’ recovered in this manner).

5. Mixed responses for unrest:

The government has long been trying to push the transformation of South Africa’s townships from dormitories of cheap labour during apartheid to sites of economic activity and job creation in their own right.

July’s unrest, which swept through the country’s two economic hubs of Johannesburg and Durban, threatened to undo whatever progress had been made since 1994. The looting and vandalism, which cost businesses billions of rands, dealt a blow to investor confidence, already impaired by Covid-19’s economic onslaught.

There have been some concerns that private investors would flee the townships in the aftermath of the unrest. 

Others, however, say there are still reasons to invest in South Africa’s townships — and that those who have found a foothold in these potentially lucrative markets have what it takes to stay.

Professor Ivan Turok, holder of the South Africa research chair in city-region economies at the University of the Free State, said the unrest has triggered a mixed response from businesses.

“On the one hand, you have companies who say: ‘We have to rebuild. We have to get back to where we were. These remain important markets’.”

That has been the response of established retailers such as Shoprite, Turok noted. After the riots, Shoprite soothed shareholders’ concerns, despite 1 189 of its outlets having been severely affected. 

South Africa’s biggest retailer by market capitalisation noted that it was adequately insured and that any irrecoverable one-off costs were not expected to be material at a group level. 

“Some other less significant investors have, I think, become more concerned about instability and mistrust. Where the case for investment was perhaps less compelling, they are raising questions about the state of governance and the heightened risks to private business operations.”

Business confidence, according to an index by Rand Merchant Bank and the Bureau for Economic Research, slid back into into negative territory in the third quarter as a result of the unrest. This was after confidence rose to neutral terrain in the previous three months.

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Business Insider, Daily Maverick, Moneyweb, and Mail & Guardian.

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