News in South Africa 21st June:

1. Gauteng – epicenter of third wave:

Gauteng is at the epicentre of South Africa’s third wave of Covid-19 infections, with hospitals warning of diminishing bed capacity as active cases escalate.

Gauteng - epicenter of third wave
Image taken by: Andrea Piacquadio

While the provincial health department assures that the situation is under control, private hospitals say they are running out of space.

The country recorded 37,240 new cases over the weekend (Friday to Sunday), almost two thirds of which were in Gauteng. This week, Gauteng’s daily infections have surpassed the numbers recorded during the first and second waves.

Mokgethi says the province’s Health system still has enough capacity to cope with demand and healthcare personnel, and beds have been added where required.

The South African National Defense Force has also deployed medics to the province.

2. Fired for refusing a vaccine?:

South Africa’s labour department recently updated its guidelines for dealing with Covid-19 in the workplace, which now requires companies to declare whether they plan to make vaccinations compulsory.

At the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), government and the private sector agreed that workers’ refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine should not justify a dismissal. But, last week, Business for South Africa (B4SA) told businesses that the revised guidance does not bar employers from firing workers who reject the vaccine.

“There is nothing contained in the Revised Occupational Health and Safety Direction which prohibits an employer from dismissing an employee who has been identified as high risk and who has refused to be vaccinated (and cannot be reasonably accommodated),” B4SA told its constituents.

“… but employers are encouraged, before considering such action, to seek legal advice given the complexities of such a dismissal,” said B4SA.

Before considering a dismal, employers must have first conduct a risk assessment of their workplace to determine the category of employees which it requires to be vaccinated on a mandatory basis, Riola Kok, a professional support lawyer at law firm CDH’s employment practice, said.

According to Kok, there are two main reasons you could get fired for refusing to be vaccinated if you are a high-risk employee and cannot be accommodated in the workplace.

After considering the employee’s reasons for refusal, such as medical, religious, constitutional, and cultural, the employer is mandated to assess whether it is necessary for the employee in question to be inoculated and whether they fall under a high-risk category where vaccinations are required.

3. Carbon tax looms:

While businesses celebrate the upping of private power generation to 100MW, tax implications of the move are also coming to the fore.

Of note is South Africa’s carbon tax regime, which is already in effect for businesses operating on more than 10MW of power.

South Africa’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas are entering the second round of their carbon tax returns in July this year. Teething problems during the first round have to a large extent been smoothed out.

However, not all companies embraced the concept of the carbon tax; from an estimated R3 billion, the South African Revenue Service (Sars) collected around R2.5 billion.

The tax has been in the making for many years and companies whose activities rely on 10 megawatts (MW)  and more of electricity, heat production and petroleum refining started paying the carbon tax last year.

Andrew Gilder, director at Climate Legal, says entities that are engaged in the listed activities had to register with Sars and license their emitting facility as a customs and excise warehouse.

The tax become effective on June 1, 2019 and companies submitted their carbon tax returns for the six months to December 31 in October last year after some reprieve was given due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The second tax return period extends from January 1 until December 31, 2020, and returns are due from the end of July.

“The tax was deliberately introduced at a low level so that taxpayers could become familiar with the administrative processes before it is significantly ramped up,” says Gilder, who is member of the South African Institute of Taxation’s carbon tax work group.

The tax was introduced at a rate of R120 per ton of CO2 emissions. During phase one – which extends to the end of 2022 – it is set to increase by CPI plus 2%. It is currently at R134/t CO2.

4. Cyril warns citizens to obey restrictions:

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that South Africa is now in the midst of a third wave of Covid-19 infections, and has warned that everyone citizen will need to do their part to help limit the toll – including adhering to lockdown regulations, and even going beyond the gazetted requirements if they can.

Writing in his weekly open letter to the public, Ramaphosa said that when the virus surges to this extent, the economy also faces challenges.

“Workers have to isolate or quarantine, people stop going out for recreation or shopping, tourism comes to a standstill, and workplaces have to spend more money to prevent infections.”

However, the president said it was incorrect to speak about a trade-off between lives and livelihoods.

“Rather, we need to invest our time, effort and resources to control the pandemic to see a payoff, in terms of both falling case numbers, reduced deaths and economic recovery.

“The climb in new cases has been extraordinarily rapid and steep over the past few weeks. The number of daily new cases jumped from below 800 in early April to over 13,000 in the past week. In other words, it increased more than fifteen-fold from the last low point.”

5. Roads are deteriorating:

Engineers have warned that South Africa’s secondary and tertiary roads are deteriorating rapidly, and this is having a massively detrimental effect on road transport and freight, which should be shifted to rail networks instead.

Maintenance and development of infrastructure, including that of SA’s road network, must continue to remain a strategic objective of the public and private sectors, states Vishaal Lutchman, CEO of the SA Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE).

Lutchman was responding to a report released by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan earlier this month, which stated that 30% of SA’s paved roads are in a poor to very poor condition.

The report also stated that more than half (54%) of the country’s unpaved road network was in a poor to very poor condition.

“Much more has to be done to give effect to our economic reconstruction and recovery plan by ongoing focus on our transport system, including our road network,” Lutchman said.

Lutchman said the SA road network was managed at three levels:

  • Primary intercity, with economic roads mainly managed by Sanral on behalf of the Department of Transport;
  • The secondary and tertiary intercity network, largely managed by the nine provincial departments; and
  • Urban and rural municipal roads managed by local authorities.

“While SAICE believes that Sanral continues to maintain a strong level of professional engineering expertise, we do recognise that the deterioration of some of the country’s road networks is multifaceted and a complex issue,” Lutchman said.

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, ENCA, Business Insider, Moneyweb, and TimesLive.

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