News in South Africa 29th March:
1. SA’s Covid vaccine strategy botched:
South Africa’s ‘dismally slow’ vaccine acquisition and roll-out means the country will effectively have to rely on natural infection to reach herd immunity, with an estimated 150,000 lives lost to Covid-19 already.
This is according to health economist, Professor Alex van den Heever, chairperson of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits University’s School of Governance.
Speaking as a guest in a Medztalk webinar on Thursday night, Van den Heever said the government’s inefficient response to Covid-19 via a hard lockdown in March 2020 was hugely destructive to South Africa’s social and economic fabric – and failed to prevent transmission. This accelerated the country’s economic decline, halting production lines, choking incomes and forcing people to draw on their savings – with a catastrophic effect on government functions and finances in just two months – March and April.
“This was probably the worst effect you could have on an economy outside of a war,” he says.
Without Reserve Bank intervention creating liquidity by buying up government bonds in secondary markets, the government would have been left without anyone willing to lend it money.
“That’s how serious it got and how fast it happened,” he says, estimating job losses in 2020 alone at 1,5 million.
The extended tobacco and alcohol prohibitions had cost the government R35-billion in lost tax revenue, excluding losses in excise duties, VAT and other taxes, meaning it jeopardised its own financial ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus threat.
2. Ship stuck in Suez Canal freed:
A massive container ship stuck in the Suez Canal has been refloated stated maritime services provider Inchcape.
Many large container ships are already heading towards the African coast after they’ve changed direction away from the blockage in the Suez.
This morning, oil prices slumped by more than 2% following the news of the container ship being freed. Brent fell to $63 a barrel.
3. Many against Easter lockdowns:
Religious and business groups have reached the end of their patience with government’s lockdown strategies, now threatening to go to court if more restrictions are imposed over the Easter weekend.
There is no evidence that church gatherings are superspreader events and, if the government decided to “disadvantage” Easter Weekend services with new regulations, religious leaders would turn to the courts, according to the SA National Christian Forum (SANCF).
Cancelling or reducing the numbers for Easter church services this year is an insult and an attack on the Christian community, SANCF president Bishop Marothi Mashashane stated.
The liquor industry has said while they were open to the amendment of restrictions to save lives; they cannot afford, nor will they accept another ban.
The sector reported that it lost about R36.3 billion in revenue due to various alcohol bans.
“We will not accept a ban. We will do whatever it takes to make sure that we push back against the narrative that seeks to impose a ban on the industry when all the data that we have does not support that. So really, a ban is not something that we are going to accept. Let them try, to see how we are going to react to it.”
He pleaded with consumers to abide by existing regulations around alcohol.
“The encouragement that I have for consumers is that let them continue to respect all the laws of the country.”
4. Any ban on alcohol will kill industry:
If government decides to implement restrictions or a ban on the sale of alcohol again, it should give the industry “a rational reason for signing this veritable death warrant”, Zoleka Lisa, vice president of corporate affairs at SA Breweries said in a statement on Friday.
Lisa’s comments come in the wake of reports that Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s advisors have recommended tighter restrictions on gatherings and liquor sales ahead of a series of upcoming public holidays, including the Easter weekend. Experts have warned that a third wave of the virus could be even deadlier than the first or the second.
“Unjust and reactive regulations will do more harm than good. So, we ask government and civil society to accept us as a partner so we can find and implement solutions to the challenges that face our society without destroying hundreds of thousands of livelihoods in the process. There is a better way, if we work together,” said Lisa.
“If our trade is restricted in the coming long weekends, our government should know that any interruption in sales, particularly on Friday and Saturday, where 50% to 60% of sales are made, will put thousands of small businesses at a serious disadvantage. Many of these small businesses, who our president deemed ‘crucial for the South African economy’, and who only just started to recover from the hardship of the 2020 bans, will not survive another wave of restrictions.”
5. Covid highlights need for NHI scheme:
The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that South Africa needs the National Healthcare Insurance scheme to narrow the inequality gap in access to healthcare, but many problems persist, including questions around timelines, resources, funding, and the economic disruption for companies in the sector.
The aim was to set up the fund after legislative approval and provide majority coverage by mid-2020 to 2030. Implementation was expected to occur in a phased manner.
At present, the NHI Bill has been published by the Minister of Health, approved by cabinet and is currently awaiting consideration in parliament.
While the bill will likely be passed, there are many uncertainties in terms of how it will work, what it will look like, how it will be funded and if it has a reasonable chance of achieving its goal of quality healthcare for all residents.
A few pilot projects to test its potential and the administrative planning of the NHI, such as setting up population databases, have begun.