News in South Africa 20th September:
1. Updated travel restrictions:
Germany has removed South Africa from its list of high-risk countries, giving travellers another route into the European Union’s (EU) Schengen region.
In a notice on Sunday (19 September), the German federal government announced that 14 countries have been removed from the list, no longer subject to strict entry requirements.
Some travel restrictions remain in place, however, with travellers aged 12 years or older needing hold proof of the following upon entering Germany:
- A negative Covid-19 test result; or
- Proof of a full Covid-19 vaccination; or
- Proof of recovery from an infection.
Germany’s easing of restrictions comes just a day after the UK government announced that it will keep South Africa on its red list for travel – holding in place incredibly restrictive and expensive quarantine conditions for local travellers.
Under the UK’s travel rules, travellers who have been in a country or territory on the red list in the last 10 days will only be allowed to enter the UK if they are British or Irish nationals or have residence rights in the territory.
These travellers are subject to rigorous Covid testing and have to quarantine at a designated hotel at their own cost. A 10-day package costs £2,285 for a single adult (R46,000), and £1,430 (R29,000) for each person over 11. Children aged 5 to 11 will bump the total up by £325 each.
While analysts speculated that South Africa would be removed from the red list following petitions from local citizens, appeals from the South African government, and local branches of multinational corporations, this did not materialise.
The relationship between Britain and South Africa is an important economic corridor with Britain exporting R62 billion to South Africa in the year to end-March while it imported R90 billion, noted Busi Mavuso, the chief executive of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA). The UK is South Africa’s second-largest trading partner, behind the EU, she said in a newsletter on Monday. For the UK, South Africa is the largest trading partner in Africa.
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor expressed disappointment at South Africa being kept on the UK’s red list for travel, saying that there is simply no reasonable basis for the country to be kept on the list.
Dirco said it would work with stakeholders to intensify efforts to have SA removed from the UK’s red list.
2. Economic freedom improvement:
South Africa has been ranked 99 of 178 countries in the 2021 Economic Freedom Index report released by American-based think tank The Heritage Foundation – up from 106 in 2020 – yet remains in the ‘mostly unfree’ category for the third time in a row.
With an improved economic freedom score of 59.7 (out of 100) compared with last year, South Africa slightly missed making it to the ‘moderately free’ category by 0.3 of a point.
“The upward movement of South Africa in terms of the freedom index is good news,” says Bonang Mohale, president of Business Unity South Africa (Busa), who adds this is especially true given the woefully slow vaccine rollout amid the pandemic.
“Moody’s rating agency had already downgraded us below investment grade. As we speak, we are three notches below investment grade.
“We are [also] just putting our arms around the nine wasted years of state capture,” says Mohale.
The report covers the second half of 2019 and first half of 2020 and measures economic freedom across four broad pillars:
- Rule of law: property rights, government integrity, judicial effectiveness;
- Government size: government spending, tax burden, fiscal health;
- Regulatory efficiency: business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom; and
- Open markets: trade freedom, investment freedom and financial freedom.
According to the report, South Africa’s new ranking position is mainly attributed to the solid improvement in judicial effectiveness which is at 57.1 points (2020: 38). Although the country’s judicial processes are deemed reliable, courts are understaffed and underfunded.
To climb up the economic freedom ladder even further, the government will have to “prioritise improvements in the judicial system and confront persistent labour market rigidities that trap more than one-third of workers in the informal economy”, the report suggests.
3. Vaccine passport in the works:
Government’s science advisors have signed off on restricting access to some South African venues only to those who have been vaccinated from about November. Health minister Joe Phaahla has been floating the idea, which seems to have been signed off on by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Soon, it seems, SA will have vaccine passports capable of being used to deny those who have not received their jabs from what was, before the pandemic, such mundane pleasures as going to a nightclub.
It will not be the first. Several countries have set up such schemes, with varying levels of intensity in their implementation.
Here is how vaccine passports work in other countries, from a nice-to-have to the only way to keep your job:
- Italy: show immunity if you want to work
- England: a dramatic U-turn from passports for entertainment to no such plans
- Scotland and Wales: if you want to party
- Australia: maybe for entertainment, in some places, or by some businesses
- France: needed to access museums, and anywhere more than 50 people could gather
- Israel: needed to access to entertainment venues but you’ll need a booster to keep it
4. Third wave over soon:
South Africa should exit its third wave of Covid–19 this week if the current downward trend in new cases and hospitalisations continues, says CSIR senior researcher Ridhwaan Suliman.
In his weekly analysis of South Africa’s Covid–19 statistics, Suliman noted a declining trend in new cases nationally.
On Friday, he reported that all provincial Covid–19 curves are still on a downward trend.
Suliman said that Gauteng and Limpopo had exited the third wave, with North West and Mpumalanga set to follow shortly.
Nationally, the changes over the past week were as follows:
- Cases: –35%
- Tests: –11%
- Test positivity at 9.3%
- Hospitalisations: –23%
- Deaths: –3%
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) is also still reporting that the current surge in Covid–19 infections shows signs of a sustained downward trend.
On Sunday evening, the NICD reported that 2,281 new Covid–19 cases were identified in South Africa, representing a 7.4% positivity rate.
Statistics from the National Department of Health show that another 58 Covid–19 related deaths were reported, bringing the total fatalities to 86,174.
South Africa’s vaccination programme is performing well, with close to 16 million vaccines administered by 17:00 on Sunday.
Of these, 3,497,797 were the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while 4,413,374 people in South Africa have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
5. Over 650 000 registered to vote:
As the IEC reports that it surpassed its expectations for the voter registration weekend, reports on the ground of many polling stations convey a sense of apathy among voters.
The EIC said that around 650,000 people registered over the weekend, mainly on Saturday when registrations opened. However, speaking to the media, many of the voters who turned up to register said they were still deciding whether they would even vote or not.
Parties were criticised for campaigning while failing to address 10 years of failed service delivery.
At some voter registration stations, the turnout barely reached 50.