News in South Africa 30th November:

1. Mandatory vaccines coming:

As the government moves to consult and investigate vaccine mandates amid calls from businesses and other groups that they are implemented as soon as possible, legal opinions are coming around how viable such mandates could be in the eyes of the law. Legal experts believe mandates will ultimately be defendable in court.

Mandatory vaccines coming
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The consultation process protects the government from arguments of it moving too hastily, while the Constitution itself (s36) makes provision for individual rights to be limited as long as it is reasonable and justifiable.

Lawyers want to gain legal clarity on mandates as soon as possible.

Even if it takes South Africa a solid two months to impose a vaccine mandate for indoor public spaces, the window is rapidly closing for those who have not yet had their first dose of Pfizer.

“Government has set up a task team that will undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on Sunday night. That team is due to make recommendations to the cabinet “on a fair and sustainable approach to vaccine mandates”.

Ramaphosa previously promised that “[n]obody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated.”

But the economic pressure from the fallout around the Omicron variant seems set to mean exactly that: a requirement for proof of vaccination to access certain services and places, with possibilities including public transport, and entertainment venues. There have also been only half-joking suggestions that the ability to buy booze should be linked to proof of vaccination.

That pressure suggests that the imposition of vaccine mandates will come sooner rather than later. Even if the date is only set at the end of January, that leaves little time for the majority of the population to start the process of becoming fully vaccinated.

In South Africa you currently have to wait 42 days between doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and only two weeks after the second dose are you considered fully vaccinated. That means a first dose by no later than 7 December, in order to be fully vaccinated by 1 February.

2. Fuel price skyrockets:

Fuel prices will rocket further from December 1, with the price of 95 unleaded set to hit a record R20.35/l in Gauteng and other inland provinces, while both 93 unleaded and LRP will cost R20.13/l.

This comes as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) announced on Monday that all grades of petrol will increase by 81 cents per litre nationwide from Wednesday.

The continued surge in SA fuel prices comes largely on the back of a weakening rand and higher international crude oil prices. In November, the petrol price was hiked by R1.21 a litre.

The AA has warned that the price hikes will have a knock-on effect across the supply chain and add inflationary pressure to the economy. Analysts have said that fuel price hikes this year have already pushed many consumers to the brink of their budgets, and the latest may push them over the edge. There have been calls for a full review of fuel prices in South Africa, including reducing taxes.

Speaking to radio station 702, the Automobile Association’s spokesperson Layton Beard said that the latest fuel price effectively equates to a R2 increase in two months after the petrol price increased by R1.21 in November and 81 cents in December.

Beard added that the South Africans with petrol vehicles are paying R5.87 (37%) more for a litre of petrol since the start of the year.

  • Petrol 95: +37%
  • Petrol 93: +37%
  • Diesel 0.05%: +40%
  • Diesel 0.005%: +40%
  • Illuminating paraffin: +64%

“We know that salaries and wages are not keeping pace with these increases, and these increases will have a knock-on effect for all consumers,” he said.

3. Flights resume to UK:

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will resume flights between South Africa and the United Kingdom this week after services ground to a halt on Friday.

Travel between the UK and South Africa was thrown into a tailspin over the weekend, as word of a newly detected, highly mutated Covid-19 variant reverberated throughout the world. The discovery of Omicron was first announced by South Africa’s Department of Health and scientists from the Network for Genomic Surveillance on Thursday.

Just hours after the briefing, the UK announced that travel from South Africa, and neighbouring countries, would be prohibited from midday Friday. Back on the red list, only British or Irish nationals, or travellers with residence rights in the UK, have been permitted to enter, with the controversial hotel quarantine programme back in full effect from 04:00 on Sunday.

Restrictions on South African travellers – criticised by President Cyril Ramaphosa, scientists, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – have since been imposed by dozens of countries.

In response to the UK government’s swift suspension of travel, major airlines grounded flights to and from South Africa.

For those stranded travellers in the UK and South Africa there is some good news. Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will restart operations this week, with the first flights leaving South Africa on Wednesday.

“Following the reinstatement of South Africa on the UK Government’s ‘red list’, we’ve been actively reviewing our flying schedule and will be cancelling all passenger services from Johannesburg to London Heathrow until Wednesday 1 December, when flight VS450 is next scheduled to operate,” said a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson.

Flight VS450, departing OR Tambo International Airport at 08:55 on Wednesday, is almost fully booked. At the time of publication, the outbound flight only had two seats available in Premium Class, costing R24,409 each. Virgin Atlantic will operate a reduced flight schedule, with just three flights to London in the second week of December.

British Airways will also resume flights from South Africa to the UK on Wednesday, and airline spokesperson stated. Six flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg will operate between 1 December and 6 December.

4. Vaccines protecting against Omicron:

With the news of a new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa, officials and health practitioners are concerned that it may lead to more severe disease, compared with previous variants.

But doctors treating patients infected with the variant, named Omicron, ahead of South Africa’s fourth wave, say their patients have mostly displayed mild symptoms.

Speaking at a media briefing on Monday, Dr Unben Pillay, a general practitioner in Gauteng, said that even though doctors in the province – where cases have risen sharply over the last several days – have seen an increase in cases, these cases have tended to be very mild.

“We’ve seen patients present with flu-like symptoms, dry cough, fever, night sweats and a lot of general body pains and malaise,” he said.

However, Pillay cautioned: “We haven’t seen a big increase in hospital cases or in pulmonary complications … but it is early days.”

Similarly, Dr Angelique Coetzee, a Tshwane medical doctor and board chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), stated over the weekend that her Covid patients, so far, had not shown any severe symptoms, or the need for hospital treatment.

In a series of tweets on Friday, infectious disease expert Dr Richard Lessells highlighted that only time will tell whether the new variant causes more disease severity.

He said that because Omicron is a recently discovered variant, scientists and doctors can’t know for certain until more data on hospitalisation becomes available in the next few weeks. 

“Observations from clinicians on the ground are always important, and we lean heavily on them, but we need to be cautious about jumping on early reports that all cases with this variant are mild,” he wrote.

Vaccinated patients fare better

Pillay said doctors managing Covid patients have observed that those with breakthrough infections (contracting the disease after vaccination) “are managed at home and tend to do much better” than the unvaccinated. 

“We will know a lot more in terms of what the patients’ presentation features are as we go along,” he said.

Hospitalised patients mostly unvaccinated

In the Tshwane metro, where cases have climbed since mid-November, 87% of all patients hospitalised with Covid are unvaccinated, it was reported.  

This was according to Dr Wassila Jassat, from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), who said there have been 455 hospital admissions in the Tshwane area in the last two weeks. Their surveillance indicated that unvaccinated patients fared worse than vaccinated ones, Jassat said. 

Pfizer has already started working on a version of its COVID-19 vaccine specifically targeting the new Omicron variant in case the current inoculation is not effective against the latest strain, the US drugmaker’s CEO Albert Bourla said Monday.

Johnson & Johnson also said on Monday that it is “pursuing an Omicron-specific variant vaccine and will progress it as needed.”

On Friday, Moderna, another leading COVID-19 vaccine maker, said it was developing a booster shot against the new variant.

5. Bank Sentiment Index released:

BrandsEye has published its 2021 South African Banking Sentiment Index, revealing how consumers feel about the big retail banks in the country.

The index is based on over 2.7 million consumer social media posts about South African banks from 1 September 2020 to 31 August 2021. The group then analysed some 500,000 of these posts for sentiment and conversation themes.

The customer service and experience solution provider uses topic analyses to gauge the sentiment of posts (either positive or negative) across 70 topics and seven broad categories, including reputation, customer service, pricing and customer retention.

The net index score is determined by subtracting negative sentiment from positive sentiment.

Overall, the banking industry still experienced more negative conversations on social media than positive – resulting in an industry net sentiment of -7.5% – but it seems to be headed in the right direction, having improved in net sentiment for a second consecutive year.

“Advancing in the index ranks proved more difficult than declining this year,” said BrandsEye business development director Lyndsey Duff.

“Absa, Nedbank, and Discovery Bank all surpassed Standard Bank, despite the latter only declining by 1.8 percentage points in public net sentiment.”

Seeing the most significant improvements in overall public net sentiment this year was Absa, having climbed the ranks both operationally and reputationally to take first place in the index.

However, the biggest improvement in terms of size was Discovery Bank’s operational improvement of 23.9 percentage points, which saw it move up from eighth last year to sixth this year.

The public net sentiment is the overall customer satisfaction metric, calculated by subtracting all negative sentiment from positive sentiment.

Operational conversation refers specifically to feedback about the customers’ experience of business operations. By contrast, the reputational conversation includes online press coverage, owned and earned PR and marketing efforts, and publicity generated by social responsibility efforts.

Net Sentiment Rankings:

Absa African Bank TymeBank
African Bank Nedbank Nedbank
TymeBank Absa Capitec Bank
Nedbank TymeBank Absa
Capitec Bank Capitec Bank Discovery Bank
Discovery Bank Discovery Bank & FNB African Bank
Standard Bank Standard Bank Standard Bank

Rankings according to sampled Net Sentiment. Actual rankings may differ within margin of error where scores are similar.

All information sourced from articles posted by: News24, Moneyweb, BusinessTech, Business Insider, Health24, and ENCA.

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