News in South Africa 28th January:
1. Vaccines due to arrive Monday:
South Africa’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccines are set to arrive in the country on Monday.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize made the announcement on Wednesday, saying that work would now begin to vaccinate the country’s more than 1,25 million health workers first.
The Serum Institute of India will dispatch 1 million of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine in the initial batch.
Five-hundred-thousand more doses are expected to be shipped next month.
A flight carrying the precious cargo is scheduled to leave India on Sunday and land at OR Tambo International airport on Monday.
Mkhize described the imminent arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines as a massive achievement.
Deputy Director of Health, Dr Anban Pillay, explained that two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be administered.
“The dosing interval varies – in some of the trials it’s been four weeks, but it could go up to 12 weeks. It’s administered in the deltoid muscle with a syringe – (like many of us) have seen on TV.”
Healthcare workers will get the first vaccines, with the Western Cape planning to start vaccinations as early as 8 February.
2. Treasury considering vaccine funding options:
National Treasury’s Director-General Dondo Mogajane has maintained it has the funds to secure vaccines and that finance won’t be an issue for South Africans to receive doses.
Mogajane was speaking during a virtual engagement between Treasury officials and the South African National Editors’ Forum on Wednesday.
The cost of vaccinating about 40 million South Africans is estimated between R20 billion and R24 billion, said Mogajane. He, however, highlighted that final figures – and details on how funding would be provided – would be made clear at the tabling of the national budget in Parliament on 24 February.
He detailed three main options for financing vaccines: the first being taxes, which is how government funds most operations.
“We are not saying we are going to increase VAT. We are not saying we are going to increase Pay-As-You-Earn. We are not saying we are going to increase Corporate Income Tax. All we are saying, the option is available…” he said.
econdly, government could increase borrowing if there are limited resources, which according to Mogajane has been the case for a number of years.
Treasury is still in negotiations to secure a loan from the World Bank, deputy director-general of asset and liability management Tshepiso Moahloli confirmed. “All sources of funding would be considered and would be made available at the time of the budget,” said Moahloli.
Thirdly, reprioritising of existing budgets is also on the table – even though Treasury is now cutting close to the bone, as Mogajane put it. “We have been reprioritising to a point where we are reaching the bone of some of government programmes, so we cannot cut any further.”
3. Alcohol ban’s ripple effects:
Government is facing more court action against its alcohol sales ban.
This time, the body representing more than 2,000 wine farmers and producers, Vinpro, is heading to court.
It wants the ban lifted with immediate effect at its court hearing set for late next week. The largest beer brewer in the country, South African Breweries (SAB), has also taken the government to court.
Businesses and stakeholders in the industry are calling for an immediate lifting of the ban, with job losses and business closures already happening.
The government argues that the ban is necessary to drop alcohol-related trauma cases at over-burdened hospitals.
4. SAHPRA conditionally approves Ivermectin:
Health regulator SAHPRA is approving parasitic treatment drug Ivermectin for ‘controlled, compassionate’ use in Covid-19 cases in South Africa.
The body has found a middle-ground over the drug to meet demands from healthcare professionals who want to use it to help treat Covid patients.
The drug – mainly prescribed to animals – is still not registered and fully approved for human use in SA, but SAHPRA is building a framework where doctors can apply to prescribe it, and take full responsibility for the consequences.
“Very detailed guidelines of this programme” will be announced “in coming days” that would build in the principles that are used to inform and grant s21 authorisations under the Medicines Act and would be “open to all patients”. A s21 authorisation is a mechanism used by SAHPRA for medicines that are not registered in South Africa, but which are known to be safe and efficacious and in use in other countries. In the past, how and when these authorisations have been granted has itself been a bone of contention, for example, overuse of generic drugs for cancer or HIV whose originals are excessively priced.
According to Semete-Makokotlela, applications would need to be made by health professionals so as to ensure they took responsibility for safety and monitor efficacy. “There’s a large responsibility we are placing on health professionals,” she said.
The drugs used as part of the programme would need to be drugs manufactured for human use (not animal use) and, given that there is no local production of the drug, it would have to be imported by a reputable company.”
5. Steinhoff’s share price exploded:
Steinhoff’s share price exploded yesterday, ending the day 30% higher after its European retailer Pepco reported strong sales for the quarter to end-December. Pepco owns the Poundland stores in the UK and Dealz outlets in Ireland, Spain and Poland.
It looks like a tough day ahead for the JSE after Wall Street indices slumped by more than 2% overnight. US central bank left rates unchanged at between zero and 0.25%, issuing a downbeat statement on the US economy.
The rand was trading at R15.29/$ earlier.