News in South Africa 14th January:
1. Wasteful expenditure in hospitals:
Investigations are raising questions around possible wasteful spending or corrupt spending regarding Gauteng’s field hospitals and building capacity for Covid-19 patients – which has simply not materialised.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura has reported that since June 2020 Gauteng has created 2,419 new critical-care and general-wards beds. He talked up the province’s plans to bring a further 775 beds on stream in January and February. “We have better capacity to face the second wave than we had in the first,” he said.
And yet the reality patients and health workers report on the ground seems to continue to contradict these asertions. Based on how much money it has spent – and contracted to spend – on building new ICU hospitals and upgrading old ones, the Gauteng Health Department should by now have been ready for the surge of patients during the second wave.
But it isn’t. Far from it, in fact.
“When the first wave came the hospitals were nowhere near ready 20% or 30% and now were in midst of a second wave and in the eye of the storm and the hospitals are full. Those that are built already don’t have staff and that is the situation at Chris Hani Baragwanath, for example, that has a 500-bed ICU facility.” said, Mark Heywood, Editor – Maverick Citizen
2. Former Eskom CFO granted postponement:
One of the most anticipated testimonies at the state capture inquiry failed to get underway on Wednesday, leaving a seasoned advocate red-faced and the country’s second most senior judge livid.
At 10:00, the stage was set for the evidence by Anoj Singh, a former chief financial officer at Eskom, whose name has repeatedly been implicated in damning claims of improper conduct and corruption by witnesses who had presented evidence before the inquiry, which began in August 2018.
The allegations made against Singh are linked to his tenure as a high ranking financial officer guarding the financial health of the country’s two critical state-owned companies, Eskom and Transnet.
Singh’s evidence was expected to provide vital pieces to the state capture puzzle at Eskom, as well as the circumstances around the company’s controversial contract with McKinsey alongside Gupta-linked company Trillian, which has seen the global consultancy firm forced to pay back nearly R1 billion of some fees it received from the power utility.
However, what appeared to be an amateurish blunder on the part of the commission’s legal team, stalled what has undoubtedly been one of the much-anticipated testimonies.
In other news, a Supreme Court ruling in December against Eskom largely flew under the radar, but has now been put in the spotlight. The ruling was against Eskom’s tactic of cutting power to municipalities that did not pay their electricity bills, with the courts saying this is not allowed.
While Eskom has a legal obligation to get the money it is owed, the judges said that the utility had taken too long to do so, had management deeply involved in corruption, and were threatening other services, not just power supply, by doing so.
3. Critics doubtful of vaccine plans:
South Africa has started outlining its Covid-19 inoculation plans, despite not yet receiving a single vaccine dose, as it faces criticism over unrealistic targets and a lack of clarity.
The continent’s worst-hit country is placing high hopes on vaccines as the authorities grapple with an unprecedented surge in cases fueled by a new virus variant.
The government is aiming to vaccinate two thirds of its population – around 40 million out of nearly 60 million people – to achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021.
One million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine are expected this month – the first shipment of 20 million secured doses to be mainly delivered in the first half of the year. “This will be the largest and most complex logistical undertaking in our country’s history,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said during an address to the nation on Monday.
Around 1.2 million health professionals will be first in line for the shot, followed by 16 million elderly and vulnerable citizens, as well as frontline workers.
Government has laid out a plan using vaccines that it does not yet have in-hand – while details around timing, storage, distribution and execution of the plan are still unknown. Given the country’s poor track record of implementing plans, as well as this being the largest undertaking in its history, analysts are not hopeful.
4. Illegal border crossing arrests:
About 80 people have been arrested at the Lebombo border post for trying to get into South Africa illegally.
On Monday, the South African government announced the closure of 20 land borders in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Border queues are considered superspreader events.
Residents of Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo are ignoring the COVID-19 lockdown as hunger takes hold.
Zimbabwe embarked on a 30-day hard lockdown on 5 January, following a sudden increase in COVID-19 infections over the festive season.
Residents are queuing up at most banks and money transfer agencies in the city as a shortage of cash and hunger forces people out of their homes.
Zimbabwe has just over 23,200 confirmed cases and there have been 551 deaths.
5. Hospitals say alcohol ban working:
While the alcohol industry continues to raise concerns over the financial impact on the extended ban on sales, Western Cape health officials say this has eased the burden on health facilities.
The provincial Health Department said that more beds had been freed up hospitals.
Government has repeatedly cited alcohol as a contributor to uncontrollable behaviour, leading to added pressure on health resources.
Western Cape head of Health, Dr Keith Cloete, said that since 28 December, when the alcohol ban was reinstated, there’d been a significant and sustained decline in alcohol-related trauma cases.
Two weeks before the ban, the average admissions per day at five key hospitals was 76. Two weeks after that it dropped to 43.
“So, what is all means is that after the alcohol ban, the number of trauma cases decreased by 51%. Two weeks before, two weeks after and the maximum trauma cases declined by 60%.”