News in South Africa 17th August:
1. Discussion over opening up vaccinations:
Opening up vaccination for over 18s by the end of this week is expected to be on the agenda of the National Coronavirus Command Council’s (NCCC) expected meeting today amid lagging numbers of people getting jabs.
This follows statements from new health minister Joe Phaahla about allowing the cohort to access the vaccines by the end of the week.
The health department has noted a slowdown in the number of people coming for vaccines, which it said is concerning. Private vaccination centres now allow walk-ins for eligible people to get the jab, while some government-run centres also encourage people to walk in.
Over 18s were initially expected to get the shot from 1 September, but Phaahla believes starting earlier will allow the vaccination programme to regain momentum.
Despite this it is unlikely that lockdown levels will be lowered, as last week saw an average of more than 10 000 new infections per day.
2. Biovac to produce 100mil vaccines:
Biovac, a public-private partnership with the South African government, has been called on to help solve the problem of supply and production on the African continent. For the past 18 years, Biovac has supplied vaccines for tuberculosis, measles, hepatitis, and pneumonia to South Africa and neighbouring countries.
In successfully supplying more than 15 million doses of these vaccines every year, Biovac has now been enlisted to play a bigger role in Africa’s Covid-19 immunisation drive. Makhoana, who joined Biovac in 2004, just one year after it was founded, had already envisioned a greater purpose for the institute even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s Makhoana love for business – bolstered by furthering his education with the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School between 2014 and 2017 – that would play a vital role in negotiating with major pharmaceutical companies during the Covid-19 pandemic.
ImmunityBio, part-owned by South African-born billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, is trialling its antibody-based, hAd5 T-cell SARS-CoV-2 vaccine which aims to be more effective against emerging Covid-19 variants. A partnership between Biovac and ImmunityBio was announced in March, which would bolster active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing in South Africa.
More recently, Pfizer announced that it had partnered with Biovac to supply 55 members of the African Union with Covid-19 vaccines. Biovac’s Cape Town facility will be upgraded and incorporated into Pfizer’s vaccine supply chain, aiming to scale output to 100 million doses by 2023.
While the pandemic has increased the demand from and opportunities for Biovac, the company was already planning to scale its operations between 2020 and 2030. Covid-19 has just upped the pace of creating what Makhoana describes as “Biovac 2.0”.
3. 10 000 troops to maintain law and order:
Defence force commander-in-chief President Cyril Ramaphosa says 10,000 soldiers will remain on SA’s streets until mid-September, in the wake of recent violent civil unrest.
In a letter to National Council of Provinces chairperson Amos Masondo, dated August 10, Ramaphosa states that the deployment will come at a cost of just shy of R255m.
Ramaphosa had initially deployed 25,000 soldiers from July 12 to August 12. The extended deployment — albeit at less than half the original number of boots on the ground — kicked in from August 13 and will run to September 13.
According to the president, the soldiers will work with police “in the prevention and combating of crime and preservation of law and order” across the country.
“The expenditure expected to be incurred for this extended employment is R254,914,500,” Ramaphosa wrote.
4. School holidays to be cancelled:
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) plans to cancel the October holiday period for schools in South Africa to help make up for lost teaching time.
Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said that the department was holding talks with partners about the planned change on Tuesday morning (17 August). He added that an announcement on any planned changes would be made shortly.
Under the current 2021 school calendar, government school students are on holiday from 1 October until 11 October. Scrapping this holiday would give students an additional week of teaching time from 4-8 October.
All schools reopened on 26 July as part of the country’s move to an adjusted level 3 lockdown after a month-long level 4 lockdown.
While the education department shifted the June holidays to accommodate the closure, students still lost five teaching days over the period, which the October change will now pay up.
This comes after the lockdown caused severe teaching disruptions for much of 2020 and at the start of 2021.
According to data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, the impact of disrupted education since the Covid-19 outbreak has been devastating, with learners between 75% and a full school year behind where they should be, according to data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).
Rotational attendance, sporadic school closures and days off for specific grades have resulted in school children losing 54% of learning time.
Some 400,000 to 500,000 learners have reportedly also dropped out of school altogether over the past 16 months.
5. Traffic fine system questioned:
Serious doubt has been cast over the effectiveness and efficiency of the systems and processes that support the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act by the experiences of a Pretoria motorist.
The Aarto Act was implemented on July 1 but the points demerit system and driver rehabilitation programmes of the act will only be introduced from July 1 next year.
A Pretoria motorist, who did not want to be named, said she was handed a traffic fine by a Tshwane Metro traffic officer for not coming to a dead stop at a stop street.
The woman said the back of Aarto infringement notice lists a number of different options motorists have to pay the fine, including paying it at post offices, some supermarket chains such as Checkers, Shoprite and Spar, and by using the online platforms of FNB, Standard Bank, Absa, Nedbank or payCity.
She said she tried unsuccessfully to pay the fine on several occasions using the online platforms of Absa, PayFine and payCity.
She then went to two different post office branches on five different occasions in an attempt to pay the fine but was told each time by the counter official that the traffic fine payment system was offline. “Now I’ve lost the discount because the fine has not been paid within the specified time period within which the discount is available,” she said.
The Road Traffic Infringement Agency said that load shedding could be to blame as stations become disconnected from the eNaTIS system during blackouts.
“If the Aarto demerit system was in place, I would have received two demerit points for the traffic offence plus a further demerit point for not paying the fine on time.” The demerit system is not yet in effect; however, stories like this paint a worrying picture for when it is.