News in South Africa 19th January:
1. Unjust naming of new Covid variant:
A group of South African and international scientists have taken a strong stand against calling 501. V2, the latest variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreading like wildfire across the country, “the South African variant”.
Top researchers, who have delved into the variant for the benefit of all, say that it could have begun in any country, and could appear in any country, and labelling it “the South African variant” just because of the country’s in-depth analysis of the variant, is unjust and damaging.
On Monday night, the ministry of health, led by Dr Zweli Mkhize, hosted a webinar in which top scientists revealed all that we know so far about 501.V2.
SA’s top Covid scientists confirmed in the briefing that the new local variant is up to 50% more transmissible. It seems like the new variant allows re-infection – meaning that you can get Covid repeatedly– and urgent studies are underway to find out if current vaccines are effective against the variant.
A data set of 6.7 million tests in the country showed that about 4,000 people had been reinfected.
More young people are sick and dying, but simply because the infection numbers are far higher, not because they’re more vulnerable to severe disease and death this time around.
What does push the death rate up is when health facilities are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. Then more people die due to a lack of bed space, ventilators and personnel to tend to patients. In the City of Cape Town, for example, the risk of dying was 80% higher in weeks when infections peaked.
2. Load shedding suspended:
Eskom says it will suspend load shedding from 11pm on Monday, thanks to the return of more generators to service.
The power utility implemented load shedding from Thursday, and although this was expected only to last until Sunday night, Eskom extended the blackouts on Monday, as some of the units that were supposed to return to service on Sunday were delayed.
On Monday evening, Eskom said that over the past 24 hours, its teams had returned two generation units each at Kusile and Kriel, and one at Tutuka Power Station, to service. Two more generation units were expected to return to service on Tuesday. The power utility added that its emergency generation reserves had also adequately recovered.
It warned, however, that while the supply situation has improved, people must continue to use electricity sparingly as the system remains “vulnerable and unpredictable”.
3. Unions at odds over differing demands:
The new round of public service negotiations has not gotten off the ground as yet but trade unions in the sector are already at loggerheads over demands, an impasse that will see them starting the talks on the back foot.
Recognised unions are struggling to agree on a common set of demands, a practice that has existed for many years to ensure smooth proceedings, with some unionists worried that this will lead to a drawn-out process.
Ordinarily, trade unions from the different federations in the country, including independents, consolidate their demands ahead of negotiations; however, this will not be the case this year.
The talks, which were meant to start last year, were delayed by an ongoing battle with government over its failure to implement the last leg of the 2018 wage agreement, with the state winning a case over the matter brought to the Labour Appeal Court in December.
Labour has applied to appeal the case in the Constitutional Court as government maintains it cannot foot the bill, which amounts to over R30 billion for the three years ending in 2020.
Sources from different unions have stated that it appears as though the fight to be perceived as the most progressive union among them all has led to some preferring to field their own demands as opposed to the usual process of reaching a consensus first.
The differences were also glaring when the unions presented different arguments during the December court case.
4. 9 Million vaccine doses from J&J:
South Africa, which has yet to receive its first coronavirus vaccine doses, will be getting 9 million from Johnson & Johnson, the health ministry said on Monday.
The government of Africa’s most advanced economy is trying to secure enough COVID-19 vaccines after health workers and scientists criticised it for not moving fast enough to inoculate its people.
The country has recorded more than 1.3 million infections and more than 37,000 deaths related to the virus, the most in Africa.
South Africa should also receive about 12 million doses from the COVAX global vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organization, about 12 million from an African Union (AU) arrangement, and 1.5 million from the Serum Institute of India which is making AstraZeneca shots.
The J&J doses take the total number of doses that South Africa stands to receive to more than 30 million.
5. Alcohol ban affecting other industries:
The ban on the sale of alcohol is hitting other industries, not just breweries and liquor producers – with glass maker Consol saying it is now burning through R8 million a day, just hoping to survive long enough to see the ban through.
Following in the footsteps of SAB, which pulled another R2.5 billion in investment in South Africa over the ban, Consol said that if the ban persists, job losses and disinvestment in the country is inevitable.
Consol has, in a desperate bid to save jobs in the short-term, reallocated R800 million meant for the upkeep of its furnaces towards surviving the alcohol ban by maintaining operations.
The ban is being challenged in court, with various business groups calling for its immediate end.