News in South Africa 27th January:

1. Eskom debt repayments difficulties:

Two recent court rulings have made it much more difficult for Eskom to leave paying municipal customers in the dark when cutting or restricting electricity supply to delinquent municipalities.

Eskom debt repayments difficulties
Image taken by: Brett Sayles

While this will hinder Eskom’s efforts to collect more than R30 billion in outstanding municipal arrears, it also calls to action other state institutions obliged to assist in resolving disputes between Eskom and local governments.

These include provincial departments, National Treasury and energy regulator Nersa.

The first judgement, delivered by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in the last days of 2020, dealt with applications by property group Resilient and business and tourism chambers in Sabie, Graskop and Lydenburg. They were fighting plans by Eskom to disconnect the eMalahleni and Thaba Chweu municipalities, both in Mpumalanga.

The SCA found that it would be unlawful for Eskom to disconnect electricity supply to the municipalities, without first exhausting the mechanisms provided for resolving disputes between government entities provided for in the Intergovernmental Relations Framework (IRF) Act.

Eskom cannot ignore this, because as a SOE it has a constitutional duty to promote constitutional rights and assist and support municipalities to provide basic services.

Eskom’s plan to cut electricity supply was also irrational, since it was aimed at collecting arrear debt and limiting the rate at which it was escalating, while acknowledging that the municipalities are simply not in a position to pay, the SCA found.

In the second case, decided in the Free State High Court early in January, the court followed the ruling in the Resilient case, but went further by giving Eskom and the Nketoana municipality six months for intergovernmental dispute resolution.

2. Rumours of vaccine arrival:

Planespotter forums are abuzz after an unusual charter cargo plane from Mumbai landed at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport on Tuesday morning.

Speculation by enthusiasts, who track the movements of planes as a hobby in closed Whatsapp and Facebook groups, is that this arrival could be carrying the first batch of South Africa’s keenly-awaited vaccines, or material relating to the vaccines.

Hifly, a Portuguese-owned charter company, was used during the first lockdown for repatriation purposes.

In a statement on its website just before Christmas, Hifly said: “We are ready to safely transport Covid-19 vaccines all over the world.”

According to the operator history on PlanespottersNet, this particular Airbus A330-202, with registration CS-TQP was reconfigured to carry “Cargo (Covid-19)” in December last year.

However, Health department spokesperson Lwazi Manzi would neither confirm nor deny that the vaccines have landed.

3. Education MEC claims innocence:

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi is claiming ignorance over the R430 million spent by the department on the unnecessary ‘deep cleaning’ of schools over three months, saying he didn’t know about it until he was contacted by the media.

He said that an investigation was being launched, where those in charge of the procurement of the services will be called to explain – while the auditor general will also get involved.

“We are compelled by law, as political officers, we must stay far from these matters of procurement,” he said.

“The unfortunate part is, we stay far from these matters of procurement but if something goes wrong we are the first ones to be accused of neglecting our responsibilities.

The MEC said he is consulting with law enforcement agencies.

“Those that procured these services must explain. I’ve already received the report as I’ve received from the HoD and the CFO,” Lesufi said.

4. Ivermectin use implored by doctors:

Doctors are arguing for the prescription of ivermectin to treat Covid-19 patients be allowed in South Africa. Ivermectin is a drug commonly used to treat parasites in animals.

The drug is currently not approved for human use by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), with claims of raids and prosecution against doctors that give it to patients.

On the 22 December 2020, SAHPRA indicated that in relation to ivermectin use for COVID-19, that “Ivermectin is not indicated nor approved by SAHPRA for use in humans. There is no confirmatory data on ivermectin available as yet for its use in the management of COVID-19 infections.

In terms of safety and efficacy there is no evidence to support the use of ivermectin and we do not have any clinical trial evidence to justify its use.

SAHPRA also notes that the EML COVID-19 Sub-committee published a Rapid Review on ivermectin (21 December2020) in which they similarly conclude that:

  • The overall quality of the randomized trials involving ivermectin in COVID‐19 patients is extremely low.
  • From the available randomized control trial evidence, ivermectin is not superior to placebo in terms of viral load reduction or clinical progression. There is no evidence from randomized control trials for any reduction in mortality.

Eligible patients with COVID‐19 in South Africa should be considered for enrolment in relevant therapeutic trials.

However, the meta-analysis also concluded that additional randomized clinical trial data were needed to confirm clinical benefit in COVID-19 infections as well as define an optimized dosing regimen. Furthermore, Dr Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool, identified a number of limitations with the data from these clinical trials, including that:

  • Current results are based on limited randomised trials
  • There is potential for publication bias
  • The individual trials reviewed had limited statistical power
  • Several trials were open-label presenting a potential for investigator bias
  • Range of doses and durations were not standardised
  • Endpoints differed between trials

In his conclusion, Dr Hill indicated that well designed clinical trials are required to provide sufficient scientific data for the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.

5. IMF revises expectations:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects global growth to rebound to 5.5% in 2021, on the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and further policy support in large economies.

The IMF on Tuesday released its revised growth projections for 2020 and 2021. It noted that renewed waves and new variants of the coronavirus still pose risks to the outlook.

“Amid exceptional uncertainty, the global economy is projected to grow 5.5% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022,” the report read. The 2021 growth forecast is revised upwards from 5.2% reported in October 2020. The global contraction of -3.5% for 2020 is less severe than the -4.4% projected previously.

“The projected growth recovery this year follows a severe collapse in 2020 that has had acute adverse impacts on women, youth, the poor, the informally employed, and those who work in contact-intensive sectors,” the report read. “The strength of the recovery is projected to vary significantly across countries, depending on access to medical interventions, effectiveness of policy support, exposure to cross-country spillovers, and structural characteristics entering the crisis,” the IMF added.

Domestically, the IMF expects the SA economy have contracted by 7.5% in 2020, compared to the -8% it pencilled in previously. SA’s Reserve Bank similarly revised down its forecast from -8% to -7.1%.

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Business Insider, Moneyweb, News24, ENCA, SAHPRA, and Fin24.

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