News in South Africa 15th February:
1. Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved:
SA’s regulators have given Johnson and Johnson’s (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine the green light for a phase 3b trial in health-care workers, paving the way for the government to begin dispensing shots on Wednesday.
This marks the start of South Africa’s vaccine rollout, with approximately 80,000 doses available, and more coming.
Last week, the government suspended its planned rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, after preliminary findings from a small clinical trial found it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate Covid-19 caused by the new variant, 501Y.V2, which now dominates transmission in SA.
2. Schools reopen today:
While schools are set to reopen on Monday, February 15, the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus continues to be felt in the basic education sector following the death of 1 169 educators since the onset of the virus.
This was according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga who on Sunday afternoon gave an update on the government’s readiness for the reopening of schools.
“This year alone, as at Friday February 12, the number of deceased educators stands at 159. Non-teaching staff that passed during this time is at 69,” Motshekga said.
The commencement of the 2021 academic year comes after the re-opening of schools was delayed following an increase in Covid-19 infections during the second wave.
The 2021 academic year was initially set to commence on January 25, for teachers and January 27 for learners. However, the reopening of schools was subsequently delayed to February 1 for teachers and February 15 for learners.
“It has been almost three weeks since we began phasing in the reopening of schools for the year 2021. Our management teams returned on January 25, our teachers have been at work for two weeks since February 1 and doing all sorts of preparations to receive our learners for Monday, February 15” Motshekga explained.
“We have amended our school calender for 2021, as published by the department, confirming that tomorrow will be the first day for public schooling for 2021.”
3. SARS gets tax holiday for repayments:
The South African Revenue Service (Sars) is mandated to pay a taxpayer interest if they have overpaid their taxes, and likewise, the taxpayer is mandated to pay Sars interest if Sars has made an overpayment to the taxpayer.
The rationale for the payment of interest is to compensate a party for the economic loss of not having had use of those funds. The interest should run from the date that the party is short of the funds, to the date that the shortfall is paid.
This holds true for when the taxpayer has to pay Sars interest, but not when Sars is mandated to pay the taxpayer interest.
In fact, in a recent amendment to the Tax Administration Act (TAA), Sars has awarded itself a 30-day “interest-free” holiday.
In the law amendments was a new insertion, Section 187(3)(h), which provides that Sars is only required to calculate interest on an overpayment after a 30-day period has elapsed – in effect giving Sars an “interest-free” window.
Taxpayers however remain liable to Sars for the interest on Sars’s overpayment from the date of payment.
The law now allows the revenue service to reduce the amount of interest it must pay a taxpayer in the event of an overpayment.
4. Matric results analysed:
While the true extent of the 2020 matric examination leaks might never be known, officials investigating these irregularities are emphatic that the exams have not been compromised.
Speaking on Sunday, Hugh Amoore — chair of the national investigations task team — said that an extensive investigation was done into the leaks of the maths paper 2 and physical sciences paper 2.
“Those conclusions are, in brief, given that spread of the leaked questions was done by WhatsApp. It is a fact that the full extent of the leaks may never be revealed. Any member of any [WhatsApp] group might have forwarded what she or he had seen … to other people. But based on available evidence at the moment, from investigating marking, statistical analysis and interviews, widespread leaks did not occur,” said Amoore.
He was speaking at a wide-ranging basic education department media briefing, which largely focused on the exam leaks and the state of school readiness for the Covid-hit 2021 school year.
It was a relief, however, said Amoore, that the basic education department found that there was no security breach in the storage and distribution of the two question papers.
Amoore said that the investigation into the leaked maths paper 2 found that a total of 235 matric pupils were in WhatsApp chat groups where questions from the exam — or the full exam itself — were shared. In the case of physical science paper 2, the exam or parts of the exam were sent to groups with just 62 pupils. However, there was no guarantee that the papers weren’t spread beyond these pupils, he said.
“From this evidence, the leaks were limited to a very small numbers of learners,” he said.
From here, full investigations were done into whether there were any patterns that pointed to collusion — and it was found that there was “no evidence” of this.
5. Momentum releases profits:
In a trading update this morning, Momentum Metropolitan said its headline profit for the six months to end-December will fall by between 30% and 50%.
The insurer says that it had to increase its reserves by R850 million after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant deterioration in economic conditions were “more severe than what was initially modelled”. Covid-19 related claims were especially severe in January 2021, the company said.