News in South Africa 13th December:
1. Lockdown free Christmas possible:
Health Minister Joe Phaahla says if South Africans stay put and observe all Covid-19 protocols then a lockdown free Christmas might be possible.
Phaahla says that the data is “promising”, but the number of hospitalisations is only one factor that is considered when advising on lockdown restrictions, with a lot of input coming from health authorities and stakeholders.
These inputs would be discussed “in a matter of days” when a clearer picture of South Africa’s festive Covid situation would be available.
However, he said, right now, indications are that there may be room to work around further lockdown restrictions.
There have been 18,035 new cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, taking the total reported to 3,167,497. Deaths have reached 90,137 (+21), while recoveries have climbed to 2,913,232, leaving the country with a balance of 164,128 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 27,090,975 (+12,397).
2. Qatar bans SA again:
On Sunday, Qatar Airways had been due to start carrying passengers out of South Africa again for the first time in weeks, dropping an important Omicron-related ban.
But the airline suddenly abandoned that plan on the weekend, leaving passengers in the lurch, and the South African government with egg on its face.
Qatar had been flying into South Africa during the ban, but refused to board anyone in South Africa for the return trip. On Friday it announced that would change two days later, in a press release that cited support for SA’s tourism sector during the summer months.
Passengers rushed to buy tickets, and tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu noted the resumption of flights in a call for other restrictions on South Africa to be lifted.
However, during the course of Saturday, the airline began notifying passengers it had cancelled their flights. In some cases, notifications reviewed by reporters show, Qatar Airways first confirmed the flights, then cancelled them only hours later. Some passengers were given less than a day’s notice of the cancellation, and could get no answers on how to arrange a refund in time to use an alternative airline, if any could be found.
Qatar Airways responded to questions from reporters with a two-line statement, which read in full: “Due to operational reasons, Qatar Airways has unfortunately had to postpone the restart of outbound passenger services from South Africa for a short period of time. We apologise to our customers and recommend they contact their travel agent or visit www.qatarairways.com for further information.”
Seats for flights out of South Africa are first available again on 31 December, according to the airline’s website.
Operational flight cancellations are typically due to planes not being available, or trouble with maintenance, catering, or fuel, all of which have plagued airlines as the pandemic disrupted supply chains. But Qatar’s website suggests it has reinstated its Omicron-induced ban.
3. Liquor traders targets of organised crime:
Robbers are increasingly targeting liquor depots and delivery trucks in precisely planned attacks, getting their hands on large amounts of alcohol that they push on to the illicit market, which is already worth more than R20-billion.
This adds to the problem of liquor stores being robbed and looted – crimes that increased when heavy alcohol restrictions were in place in South Africa. Ranging from a full alcohol ban to limited sales times, restrictions have been sporadically implemented in the country since March 2020 as part of the government’s Covid-19 lockdown measures.
When access to booze was restricted in an attempt to ease pressure on hospitals’ admissions and trauma wards, alcohol became an even more lucrative commodity for criminals.
There are concerns in the liquor industry that tighter alcohol restrictions will be reimplemented over the 2021/22 holiday period as Covid-19 cases surge. They say restrictions not only negatively affect their businesses at a usually booming time of year, but also increase the likelihood of criminals targeting liquor businesses.
Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the National Coronavirus Command Council would meet soon. After this, revised lockdown regulations will probably be announced.
Criminals have targeted South African Breweries (SAB). This week, the world’s second-largest brewer implored government not to impose another liquor ban.
Industry bodies including the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) and wine producers’ representative body Vinpro have turned to the courts to challenge issues relating to the Covid-linked liquor bans. Vinpro was this week unsuccessful in its quest, with the Western Cape High Court finding that the restrictions were reasonable.
Basa chief executive Patricia Pillay, in her affidavit in a matter that is before the Pretoria High Court, said that, aside from many job losses, another “egregious and fundamental side effect of the alcohol bans has been the trade in illicit alcohol products which spawned and thrived … [and] also robbed the South African Revenue Service of much-needed tax revenue”.
To prevent becoming the target of crooks, DM168 understands that some major liquor companies have been transporting smaller quantities of stock in vehicles instead of trucks and are making use of armed escorts. Security has also been boosted at liquor outlets as well as at warehouses and other storage facilities.
At the same time, there are fears that, given the precision of attacks, corrupt police and private security officers could be working with the criminals. Some police officers have previously been arrested on suspicion of being involved in liquor theft.
4. Accommodation sector facing collapse:
The National Accommodation Association of South Africa said about 90% of small lodges and guest houses may soon have to shut their doors due to the number of booking cancellations.
This follows the travel bans imposed by a number of countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, after the discovery of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
More than 18,000 new cases were picked up in the last 24 hours under review.
In the same period 21 COVID-19 related deaths were recorded.
The majority of new infections were recorded in Gauteng, which is in the grips of a fourth wave.
Chairperson of the National Accommodation Association Rosemarie van Staden said the industry is facing a total collapse
“We are daily in conversations with people who cannot keep their doors open anymore and there is just no income anymore from leisure so this is really a predicament for the guest house industry,” she said. .
Van Staden said South Africa’s tourism sector is in for a bleak festive season.
“Families that were supposed to come to Gauteng to visit their children, weddings have been called off. Nobody knows whether we can travel so a lot of people are now cancelling their bookings,” said Van Staden
5. Fuel price changes:
Finance minister Enoch Godongwana has called for changes to how the fuel price is calculated in South Africa as the country’s motorists pay record-high prices.
Answering in an oral Q&A session in parliament on Friday (10 December), Godongwana said that he was concerned about these increases to the extent that government may have to intervene and reform the price of petrol.
Energy minister Gwede Mantashe confirmed that the government was considering several ways to lower the cost of fuel – including separating the fuel levy from the basic fuel price.
“At this point in time, a big part of the price increases is the levy,” he said. “The way of countering price increases is an urgent matter for review, and that is on the table.”
Below are the four options being considered:
1. Complete review
Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy held a series of meetings in April to discuss South Africa’s basic fuel price.
Presenting to parliament, the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) has called for a total review of how the country’s petrol price is calculated as a matter of urgency.
Among the key recommendations made by the AA to the Portfolio Committee on measures to mitigate rising fuel costs were:
- An investigation of current pricing model;
- Recalculation and audit of existing elements within the pricing model;
- Reduction of the cost of the Road Accident Fund (RAF) to motorists through measures such as better management, improved road safety and better policing;
- Better allocation and utilisation of funds from the General Fuel Levy (GFL);
- Investment in alternatives to the country’s current reliance on fuel.
Trade union Solidarity has called on the government to ‘deregulate’ South Africa’s petrol price by making changes to the country’s existing fuel levies.
In a letter addressed to Godongwana in November, the union said that when the retail price of diesel was deregulated, it saw a significant price drop almost immediately.
Currently, petrol is about 20c more expensive than diesel when imported at R9.37 per litre. However, the price difference is often more than R2 per litre at the retail level, with R16.66 being the lowest diesel price Solidarity could trace – a difference of R2.88 per litre, the group said.
3. Petrol price cap
Trade federation Cosatu has also called for changes to South Africa’s fuel price, including a petrol price cap. A cap would effectively set a limit on which motorists pay for petrol in South Africa, with any additional costs above this amount absorbed by the fiscus.
“Currently, increasing the fuel levy only serves to feed a bankrupt Road Accident Fund that has been mismanaged into the ground. The RAF’s deficit of almost R300 billion is the greatest threat to the fiscus after Eskom’s debt burden.
“We are also still waiting on the government to release the research report that was conducted by the department of energy looking into the possibility of a fuel price cap,” the federation said in August.
4. A halt on tax increases
Civil society group Outa has called for a block on further petrol levy increases in the February 2022 budget.
In a letter sent to Godongwana in November, the group said the combination of the fuel levy (FL) and road accident fund (RAF) levy feed roughly R135 billion per annum into the National Treasury’s coffers.
Outa believes that the government is extracting enough from society from these two levies and should seriously consider not increasing these levies in 2022 to cushion the impact of higher-than-inflation increases from the past.