News in South Africa 17th December:
1. Beach restrictions and compliance warnings:
Comply, or be closed. That’s the warning signalled by Police Minister Bheki Cele during beach compliance spot checks in Cape Town.
While in other provinces beaches were closed on Wednesday, Cele says the concession granted to parts of the Western Cape is not an absolute right.
Cele says he’s in favour of introducing penalties for those who don’t comply, if only to serve as a deterrent to those who refuse to wear their masks.
He said these Cape Town beaches can be closed at any time.
“It is clear that should there be no adherence to the rules, the change will be there to close or partially close the beaches,” Cele said.
2. 10 000 infections in a single day:
South Africa recorded 166 more Covid-19-related deaths by Wednesday, bringing the recorded death toll to 23 827.
Of the 166 deaths, 89 were recorded in the Eastern Cape, nine in the Free State, 10 in Gauteng, 25 in KwaZulu-Natal, two in Limpopo and 31 in the Western Cape.
The cumulative total of Covid-19 cases recorded in South Africa is 883 687, with 10 008 new cases identified since the last report. Recoveries are at 774 585.
A cumulative 5 968 692 tests have been completed, with 48 118 conducted since the last report.
“Our daily cases are growing exponentially. Our positivity rate is sitting at 21%. This far exceeds the ideal positivity rate of 10%,” Mkhize said.
3. Sasol excessive legal fees:
The forced sale by Sasol, of a 50% stake in its newly-completed Lake Charles Chemicals Project (LCCP) base chemicals plant in the US attracted transaction expenses of over half a billion rand.
This is according to the circular published ahead of the end-November shareholder vote on the sale. The vote was necessary, as the deal was defined as a category one transaction by the JSE (due to the collapse in Sasol’s share price, which meant the roughly R30-billion deal equated to more than half of the group’s market capitalisation when it was announced).
The petrochemicals giant was forced into the sale as part of its efforts to deleverage its stretched balance sheet. LyondellBasell, a global chemicals and plastics producer, will purchase 50% of the LCCP base chemicals plant for $2 billion. It will also operate the 50/50 joint venture (JV) going forward.
The deal – at the bottom of the cycle – did not come cheap.
Sasol expects to pay more than R550 million in fees to an army of legal, financial and strategic advisors, accountants and consultants.
4. SAA locks-out SAA Pilots Association:
SAA’s business rescue practitioners have issued a notice of a lock-out to the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA), effective from Friday.
The business rescue practitioners on Wednesday issued a statement indicating that the lock-out had come about as negotiations on the new agreement with the union had stalled, and all internal dispute processes had been exhausted. The matter was also referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration on 30 October.
A lock-out takes place when employer and employees cannot resolve a labour dispute. It means that employees are not able to render their services or get paid. It is enforced until employees accept the demands of the employer.
The lock-out will apply to all 383 of SAAPA’s members from 12:00 on Friday 18 December, until the union accepts a set of demands laid out by the business practitioners, the statement read.
According to the business rescue practitioners, SAA has in the past tried to address issues regarding the Regulating Agreement with SAAPA, without success. “In November 2019, after consulting with the Department of Public Enterprises, SAA launched an application in the Labour Court and in the High Court to declare the Regulating Agreement unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid and permitting the Agreement to be terminated on reasonable notice. These applications are still pending,” the statement read.
5. Testing and reviewing of Covid vaccines:
Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson was the first to apply for Covid-19 vaccine registration in South Africa and its jab is one of at least four being trialled in the country, along with those developed by Novavax, AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
In a recording of a media briefing by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) on Monday, 14 December, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, CEO of SAHPRA, said: “We received one application. This was received on Thursday evening [10 December] from Johnson & Johnson and we’ve started the review process.”
The regulator would “review the safety and efficacy of each vaccine on a case-by-case basis and will only grant approval for public use once it has met acceptable standards of quality, safety and efficacy”.
The readiness programme includes the Covid-19 Vaccine Registration Working Group, comprising external and SAHPRA experts in vaccinology, manufacturing, clinical trials, epidemiology, vigilance and other specialisations informing quality, safety and efficacy.
SAHPRA would prioritise all Covid-19 vaccine registration applications and apply an expedited approach. This will include performing rolling reviews of submissions by reviewing available data and accepting ongoing data in batches for review, relying on regulatory work by other regulators with which SAHPRA aligns, and a collaborative approach with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The expedited process would not come at the expense of safety, quality and efficacy. “The first is to give the public confidence that [the] regulator will ensure that whatever product is eventually available in the country will be a product that complies with the principles of safety, quality and efficacy,” Rees said.