News in South Africa 18th August:
1. Covid one of the biggest killers in SA:
An estimated 220,000 people may have died from Covid-19 in South Africa, statistics suggest, but as of Tuesday the official death toll – from confirmed coronavirus infections that ended in death – is 77,440.
That now makes Covid-19 both a bigger killer than South Africa’s two most deadly diseases, and more deadly than every non-natural cause of death combined.
Annualise officially recorded Covid-19 deaths, and the count comes to some 54,000, above the total of non-natural deaths recorded in 2018, the most recent year for which a detailed breakdown of causes of death is available. Those non-natural deaths include the nearly catch-all category of “accidental injury”, as well as death by assault, or from medical complications.
The annualised Covid-19 number also makes the new disease not only South Africa’s top killer, but bigger than the next two combined. In 2018, tuberculosis deaths were recorded at 27,450 and diabetes was closed behind at 26,879 deaths, a combined total of a little over 54,000.
Viruses fall far behind the bacterium, in the most recent count, HIV was responsible for 21,894 annual deaths, while influenza and pneumonia killed 17,569.
2. Waning demand for vaccines a concern:
The government is worried about waning demand for vaccines in South Africa, and is embarking on a new education campaign to educate South Africans about vaccines and answer their safety concerns.
Government will on Tuesday hold a webinar aimed at educating the public about the safety of the inoculations.
Interest around the vaccines has been declining after the initial registration boost from the 35- to 49-year-old group of the population.
Before that, the programme was opened to health workers, over 60s, police and others.
The South African Medical Association (Sama) has now stepped in to reiterate the safety of vaccines in the face of misinformation and growing hesitancy. It said that only 2% of the first 288,000 healthcare workers who were vaccinated experienced adverse side effects.
South Africa’s efforts to reach ambitious COVID-19 vaccinations have been met with indecision and uncertainty from some quarters.
From almost reaching the 300,000 per day mark, total inoculations are now averaging around 150,000 a day.
In a bid to dispel misinformation about the safety of vaccines, government is stepping up its efforts to communicate crucial messages to the public.
Sama, meanwhile, said that of the 50 healthcare workers who suffered serious side effects from the first batch of vaccinations, 12 were allergic reactions, 12 others contracted the virus within 28 days after being jabbed, while another six had neurological conditions.
The association’s Dr Angelique Coetzee: “Go and vaccinate, your chances are so low to get a reaction and as we have said, of that 2%, with one death, there’s no comparison.”
3. Massive driver licence backlog:
Opposition parties and motoring groups have called for an extension of South Africa’s 31 August driver licence deadline, citing concerns around the ‘broken’ booking system.
The validity of licences that expired between 26 March and 31 December 2020 was extended until 31 August 2021 to assist those motorists in renewing their licences when they could not do so during the lockdowns of 2020.
The opposition Democratic Alliance said that the rush to renew licences over the last few weeks has led to panic, delays, and a major backlog.
Due to an ineffective online booking system, broken eye testing and fingerprinting machines, reduced capacity in Driver Licence Testing Centres due to Covid-19 restrictions, and corruption, motorists cannot secure bookings in time to renew their driver licences before the 31 August deadline, it said.
“An extension will allow more time for motorists to obtain license renewal slots, especially in light of the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s (RTMC) acknowledgement that there is a backlog of 500,000 licences.
“This extension is indispensable as the current backlog cannot be eradicated in the next two weeks.”
The DA has also called for the scrapping of the online booking system to combat corruption and allow motorists to use DLTCs as walk-in centres.
The government has acknowledged that there are problems at the Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs), which renew these documents, the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa said.
“Yet, despite this, no further extensions will be considered, meaning people are at the mercy of a broken system.
“These problems persist and will continue to persist until the government takes a bold decision to replace – not repair or revamp – the current IT systems along with increased human resources at DTLCs,” said the AA.
4. Landlords struggle with overdue rent:
Data from specialist credit bureau TPN shows that while the number of tenants in good standing has recovered somewhat from the lows reached during lockdown last year, there remains a very long hangover of tenants in arrears.
Residential tenants in good standing in Q1 rebounded to 78.4% from a low of 73.5% reached during last year’s second quarter. Preliminary data shows this has edged up to 79% in Q2 “indicating a continuous slow recovery”.
However, of the tenants in arrears, 54% of these – over half – are more than one month in arrears. In 2015, this number was 40%. It is clear the effect of lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, where many did not receive income and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs, will weigh on the residential rental market for some time to come.
There has been some improvement since mid-year last year; TPN says “there is a visible turnaround of tenants more than three months in arrears. Similarly to consumer credit, rental relief was a short term solution to assist tenants who had lost some or all of their income during a period where they were restricted from moving”.
A separate data point, TPN’s squatting indicator (which tracks the number of residential tenants more than four months behind on their rent) has more than doubled from historical levels of between 0.6% and 0.8% to as high as 1.8% during hard lockdown last year. At the end of Q1, this number was 1.4%.
5. Unions counter scrapping of school holidays:
Education unions and school governing bodies have voiced their opposition to the government’s plan to scrap the October holidays for schools in South Africa.
Education unions and School Governing Bodies are opposing the Basic Education Department’s proposal to scrap the October school holiday. That’s according to CEO of the South African Teachers Union CEO, Chris Klopper.
The department wants to make up for lost teaching time.
Klopper says it doesn’t make sense to change the terms and it’s unacceptable that no consultations were done with unions. “When you deal with this particular matter, you must remember that we’re dealing with a serious pandemic.
“We must bear in mind that there is a very good reason why school terms are divided into four terms with about 50 days each. If they scrap [the] October holidays, you’re looking at an average term of about 120 days and young people need time to recuperate, they need time to rest and prepare for examinations that will follow in the fourth term.
“It just doesn’t make sense to scrap all of that in anxiety to cover curriculum while endangering the lives of learners as well as teachers.”