News in South Africa 23rd July:
1. Covid-19 Third wave peak passed:
Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi says that indications point to South Africa having passed the peak of a third Covid-19 wave.
Kubayi said in a media briefing on Friday morning (23 July), that while this is welcome news, there are still concerns that the recent unrest and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal could lead to a spike in infections.
It is hoped that a ramp-up of the country’s vaccination efforts will help address any future surges. Kubayi said South Africa is now vaccinating around 250,000 people daily, with plans to vaccinate 300,000 people each day in the next few weeks.
To bolster the vaccine rollout programme, the government will keep more public vaccination sites open over the weekend, with all public sites set to offer weekend vaccinations by August, the acting minister said. The government is also expected to announce the next cohort of people who can register for the vaccine in the next week, with a focus on people aged 18 years and older.
Kubayi said that a National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) meeting around the country’s current lockdown restrictions is scheduled for Sunday (25 July).
South Africa recorded 14,858 new Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, taking the total reported cases to 2,342,330. Deaths have reached 68,625, while recoveries have climbed to 2,109,820, leaving the country with a balance of 163,885 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered stands at 6,085,108.
2. Economic impact of riots:
Economists, analysts and even the Reserve Bank say it is not yet clear how much the week of riots and destruction in South Africa will cost the economy, or how it will impact rates, taxes and businesses – but the warning signs are there, and there will be a price to pay.
The carnage was widespread, with trucks, warehouses, storage facilities and buildings looted and set ablaze. Among the items looted were consumables, fancy goods and work stations. Computers containing vital information were stolen. That which couldn’t be stolen was smashed to bits.
The retailers that were looted, including opticians, pharmacies, supermarkets and funeral parlours, lost all their stock.
However, there are some tax implications that are more immediately apparent: businesses have lost trading stock which must be replaced. The lost stock will impact VAT.
Job losses will also affect payroll taxes, and income taxes – and destruction to machines, and other assets will affect certain deductions. These will add to the damages caused by the riots beyond the initial insurance costs.
3. Digital vaccine checks needed:
South Africa is being urged to digitise its Covid-19 vaccine and testing certificates in a standardised way which will make it easier for travellers to pass border security checks.
After a painfully slow start, South Africa’s vaccination rollout is now gathering momentum, with 10% of the population having received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. More than half of all these doses have been administered in the past month alone.
More than a quarter of the global population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, with countries like the United Kingdom (UK), Germany, France, Canada, and the United States (US) already past the 50% mark.
Countries with high vaccination rates – approaching herd immunity – are slowly starting to ease travel restrictions which have been in place for most of the year. Travellers from South Africa, due to the discovery of the Beta variant back in December, have remained some of the most restricted in the world.
This cautious resumption of international travel is underwritten by a set of new rules. Fully vaccinated South African travellers – those who have completed their full course of region-approved doses – have been given the green light to visit some countries in Europe without having to spend weeks in quarantine.
This trend is expected to continue, at least in the short to medium term, as more countries open up.
The European Union (EU) recently implemented a Digital Green Certificate – equipped with a digital signature in the form of a scannable QR code – which is used to prove a traveller’s vaccination status, allowing for free movement between member states.
The UK has developed its own NHS Covid Pass, India has its QR-verifiable CoWin platform, US states are introducing digital health records stored on mobile phones, and China launched its International Travel Health Certificate back in March.
While a lack of standardisation among the various passes for the purpose of international travel remains a concern, the common thread throughout is the digitisation of Covid-19 vaccine and test certificates.
“A digital solution is critical, particularly as volumes of passenger movements increase,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told Business Insider SA during a recent media briefing.
4. Rand should be worth 6$:
The rand is 60% cheaper than it theoretically should be against the dollar, the newly updated Economist’s Big Mac Index shows.
Since the 1980s, the publication has been using McDonald’s Big Mac prices to determine whether currencies are overvalued, or too cheap. It assumes that an identical product – the Big Mac – should cost the same across different countries.
It found that the Big Mac costs around R33.50 in South Africa and $5.65 in the US – which means that the rand should be worth R5.93/$. Instead, it is currently trading around R14.66/$.
This is 60% weaker than where it supposedly should be, but better than last year, when the rand was 67% undervalued – the worst performance in the world. It is now the third-most undervalued currency in the world, according to the Big Mac index, below Lebanon and Russia.
As recently as a decade ago, the rand was “only” undervalued by 39% against the dollar.
5. Riot death toll at 337:
The death toll associated with the recent riots in South Africa has now reached 337 – of which 79 were in Gauteng and 258 in KwaZulu Natal.
The revision of the number comes as some succumbed to wounds sustained during the riots. Police have opened 213 cases of murder tied to the events, and 132 cases of arson have been opened in KZN.
There has been no new update on the arrests of the instigators, though four so-called ‘masterminds’ who orchestrated things remain in custody. Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said that all instigators, be it 12 or more, will be arrested and face the full might of the law.