News in South Africa 14th September:
1. No deaths from vaccine side effects:
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) and the Department of Health (DoH) claimed in a webinar on Monday that no one in South Africa has died as a direct result of receiving a Covid-19 vaccine to date.
However, Sahpra says if there are any vaccine-related deaths, then there will be compensation through a special compensation fund.
Investigations into reported Covid-19 related deaths showed that people died either as a result of contracting the virus before vaccination or contracting the virus shortly after inoculation, but none died because of taking an actual vaccine dose.
“So these people that died because of Covid-19, they had already incubated Covid-19 at the time of vaccination or they contracted Covid-19 shortly after being vaccinated, before they could mount an adequate immune response,” National Immunisation Safety Expert Committee chair Professor Hannelie Meyer said during the webinar.
The Sahpra data on vaccine side effects comes after a recent survey by Ask Afrika and the Government Communication and Information System found that 23% of South Africans were hesitant to take the vaccine because they feared vaccine side effects.
Sahpra said it has received 2 770 reports of ‘cumulative adverse events following immunisation’ in the period May 17 to August 31, which represents 0.02% of all the doses administered nationally.
The health products authority said 86 cases related to deaths among people who received Covid-19 vaccines were reported.
Of these, 40 have been fully investigated, with Sahpra finding that 34 of the deaths were a coincidence and six were unclassifiable due to lack of information.
“Among the 40 that [have] been causality assessed, none of these [deaths] were related to any of the Covid-19 vaccines we are using in South Africa,” said Meyer.
2. ANC says elections should be fair:
The ANC says that the elections should be run fair and square and that parties shouldn’t benefit just because they could ‘muscle out’ their opponents.
This is according to ANC acting secretary-general Jessie Duarte, as she responded to the DA’s court bid to challenge the Electoral Commission’s interpretation of a Constitutional Court order, which led to its decision to reopen the candidate nomination process for the 2021 local government election.
The apex court denied an application from the IEC to postpone the election and ordered that the commission determine if it was possible to hold a voter registration weekend before the polls, which it said must take place between October 27 and November 1.
The IEC determined that a voter registration weekend could take place and, as part of this process, reopened the candidate application process.
This gave the ANC a desperately needed lifeline after the party failed to register candidates in several municipalities before the initial deadline – with the party admitting it would lose control or no longer be the official opposition in dozens of councils.
In the wake of the IEC decision, several political parties, including the IFP, EFF and DA decried this as an unfair advantage.
The party responded to the DA’s court bid to block the IEC from re-opening candidate registrations for the upcoming elections.
The ANC said that the DA’s request is at odds with the Constitutional Court’s ruling – which gave the IEC room to change the pre-election timetable – and is also at odds with the spirit of giving voters the freedom to choose their elected officials.
The ANC also said that the DA’s court bid is prejudiced, as the party’s leadership had already publicly accused the Constitutional Court of foul play, alleging it leaked information to the ANC.
3. Eskom needs to reduce debt to go green:
The head of South Africa’s state power utility needs to substantially reduce its R402 billion ($28 billion) of debt to realize his vision of transforming the coal-addicted behemoth into a leading green-energy producer and create as many as 300,000 jobs in the process.
Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd supplies more than 90% of the nation’s electricity, the bulk of it from coal, and emits more than two-fifths of the nation’s greenhouse gases.
Andre de Ruyter, 53, its chief executive officer, wants to tap concessional loans from development finance institutions to finance renewable plants in exchange for accelerating the closure of some of its old, polluting power stations.
But persuading financiers to fund Eskom will be a tall order, given that its debt is already at unsustainable levels due to cost overruns at new plants and four straight years of losses. The government has been talking about reorganizing the utility’s balance sheet for years yet has failed to take a decision, and has instead stepped in with bailouts to enable it to keep operating.
Eskom’s transition to renewable energy “will be difficult, if not impossible,” without a solution to its debt woes, according to David Masondo, the nation’s deputy finance minister.
He’s suggested several options, including that foreign utilities take a stake in the utility; that its shares be listed; or that some of South Africa’s sovereign debt be scrapped in exchange for recapitalizing Eskom and ensuring that it reduce its emissions.
Eskom is considering investing R106 billion in renewable energy projects within the next decade and is analysing various financing options. The adverse impact on the coal-mining industry and communities that rely on it could be offset by a gain in manufacturing jobs, according to De Ruyter.
“An integrated approach to resolving the debt challenges, while exploring new and innovative pathways to fund a just transition, is required to move us forward towards a sustainable electricity industry,” Eskom said in an emailed reply to questions.
4. Faster riot recovery needed:
Businesses and insurers are appealing to the government to work faster in paying out for damages sustained during the July riots, saying that many are desperate for cash to get their operations back up and running.
While the state, through its insurer Sasria, has enough funding to pay out, with so many claims, it does not have the capacity to address them quickly.
The special risk insurer accelerated payments to businesses with claims smaller than R1 million, leaving many larger companies desperate for cash.
The insurance industry has suggested that 30% of each claim be paid out immediately, so big businesses at least have some capital to restart while Sasria processes everything. This would mitigate long-term losses and help retain jobs.
5. Alcohol should be available on weekends:
On Monday, 13 September, Adjusted Alert Level 2 coronavirus restrictions came into force in South Africa. One effect is that bottle stores may now sell alcoholic drinks for consumption somewhere else for one more day a week, on Fridays.
But that is not what scientists had had in mind, a newly released memo shows.
The week before, on 6 September, the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 had told health minister Joe Phaahla that SA should return to the normal hours of alcohol trade, based on the available evidence.
The committee recommended “that consideration be given to easing the level of restrictions” in ways that could include “relaxing the current restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption, by returning to the usual hours of sale in terms of the Liquor Act (i.e. allowing sale from Mondays to Saturdays).”
In doing so, the MAC appears to have gone beyond the strict confines of the questions on which it had been asked for advice, which included whether off-site-consumption alcohol sales should be extended to include Fridays.
Just adding Friday sales wouldn’t make a lot of sense, the group said.
“[A]lthough the link between alcohol use and trauma caseload is well-established, increasing the number of days on which alcoholic beverage sales for off-site consumption by only one day is difficult to justify, and so a return to normal selling hours is preferable,” the MAC said in its memo.