News in South Africa 31st December:

1. New lockdown level 1 rules:

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet has approved new adjusted level 1 lockdown rules for South Africa.

New lockdown level 1 rules
Image taken by: Anna Shvets

In a statement on Thursday (30 December), the presidency said that this will include the lifting of the country’s evening curfew which has been in place since March 2020.

All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level, the presidency said.

“Cases declined in all provinces except the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, which recorded increases of 14% and 18%, respectively. There has been a decline in hospital admissions in all provinces except the Western Cape.

“While the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there has been lower rates of hospitalisation than in previous waves. This means that the country has a spare capacity for admission of patients even for routine health services. There is a marginal increase in the number of deaths in all the provinces.”

Based on the trajectory of the pandemic, the levels of vaccination in the country and the available capacity within the health sector, Cabinet has decided to make the following changes to the lockdown restrictions with immediate effect:

  • The curfew will be lifted. There will therefore be no restrictions on the hours of movement of people.
  • Gatherings are restricted to no more than 1,000 people indoors and no more than 2,000 people outdoors. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50% of the capacity of the venue may be used. All other restrictions remain in place.
  • The risk of an increase in infections is still high, given the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant. The government, therefore, calls on all organisers of gatherings to ensure that all health protocols are observed at all times and that all attendees are encouraged to be vaccinated.
  • Alcohol establishments that have licences to operate beyond 23h00 will revert back to full licence conditions.
  • The NCCC will continue to closely monitor the situation and will make further adjustments as necessary, particularly if pressure on health facilities increases.
  • The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence.

The Department of Health has reported a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending 25 December 2021 (89,781), compared to the number of new cases detected in the previous week (127,753).

2. Lifting of curfew a huge relief:

The City of Cape Town said that government’s decision to lift the curfew and other lockdown restrictions was long overdue, describing it as a huge relief to the hospitality and tourism sectors.

Cabinet on Thursday night announced the immediate lifting of the midnight to 4am curfew and an increase in the number of people who can gather indoors from 750 to 1,000 were permissible.

For two years, since the start of the pandemic, government imposed a curfew as one of the restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The City of Cape Town’s MMC for economic growth, Alderman James Vos, said that after hearing for months from small businesses hit by lockdown restrictions that they needed every hour of trading to help staff make ends meet, goverment’s decision comes as a welcome reprieve.

“This update means that these businesses will be able to take full advantage of the weeks left of this holiday season and beyond,” Vos said.

Meanwhile, the Restaurant Association of South Africa’s Wendy Alberts said that the move had restored faith in government’s commitment towards rebuilding the economy.

“It’s a good, positive, encouraging move for the South African citizens and it’s just a notion that improves confidence, lovely conversation and it’s going to help open and rebuild the economy,” Alberts said.

3. Eskom reduces loadshedding:

Power utility Eskom has announced that a fourth generating unit at its Kusile coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga has been synchronised to the national electricity grid, helping to ease capacity constraints.

Unit 4 at Kusile was connected to the grid for the first time on 23 December 2021.

Eskom said the unit would supply electricity intermittently during a testing and optimisation phase over the next six months before being handed over to the utility’s generation division for official commissioning into the fleet.

Once fully optimised, it would contribute an additional 800MW of capacity to the grid.

Eskom group executive overseeing new projects, Bheki Nxumalo, thanked the Kusile execution team and its contractors for their commitment to the project.

“This milestone is just what the country needs to power South Africa and its economy,” Nxumalo said.

“This achievement signifies the relentless efforts from the team in ensuring that the power station project is completed without any further delays, which would help strengthen South Africa’s electricity capacity.”

Eskom added that construction and commissioning activities on the remaining two Kusile units continued to progress according to plan.

At completion, the station will consist of six units and produce a maximum of 4,800MW, Eskom stated.

According to Eskom, Kusile is South Africa’s largest construction project and will be the world’s fourth-largest coal plant once completed.

4. Africa vaccine self-reliance:

After the coronavirus emerged, many developing nations turned to Covax, the global distribution programme. But the initiative has struggled to access doses, hobbled by production delays and export bans. While Covax was counting on India’s manufacturing muscle, the government prioritised its own citizens when a lethal wave of infections hit earlier this year.

A new plant, under construction on the edge of Dakar and expected to begin production in 2022, could help Africa avert a replay of the past year’s lopsided vaccine rollout. Manufacturing has been concentrated in just a handful of countries, and wealthy governments have secured most doses, leaving Africa and other regions far behind. Of the more than 8 billion doses given around the world, just 3% have gone to people in Africa, the World Health Organization estimates.

The fast-spreading omicron variant underscores the need to distribute supplies and technologies more widely. As the virus continues to rampage, the risk additional variants of concern will emerge and evade protection from vaccines increases, posing a threat to both rich countries and poor.

“We see very clearly today that whenever you have a variant, it becomes a problem for everybody,” Sall said.

The project, backed by European countries, the US, the World Bank and others, aims to produce 300 million doses a year targeting Covid and other diseases, helping to ensure Africa is better equipped when the next contagion comes. Institut Pasteur has teamed with Germany’s BioNTech SE and is talking with other potential partners, Sall said.

Yet even reaching those ambitious goals would leave Africa far short of the vaccine supplies needed to give two doses to each of its more than 700 million adults. And Africa’s wider plan will depend on raising additional funds, strengthening regulation and expanding distribution efforts and training, potentially taking years to deliver.

“We cannot afford to fail,” said Cheikh Oumar Seydi, who leads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work on the continent.

Under pressure to help narrow the vaccine divide, a number of companies are stepping up two years into the pandemic. BioNTech, working with the governments of Senegal and Rwanda, sees a network that could eventually supply hundreds of millions of doses to the continent. The company will produce messenger RNA vaccines, harnessing the novel technology BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer Inc. used successfully to make a Covid shot.

BioNTech and Pfizer also plan to produce their Covid vaccine at the Biovac Institute in Cape Town. That’s expected to start in the third quarter of 2022, manufacturing at a rate of 100 million doses annually, according to Biovac chief executive officer Morena Makhoana. The facility will focus on filling vials and packaging.

In another development, Moderna, whose Covid shot has yet to reach vast parts of the world, plans to spend as much as $500 million to build a factory in Africa that could make half a billion mRNA vaccine doses a year. (Health advocates have said that sharing knowledge and technologies such as mRNA is crucial to expand production, and have urged Moderna to support a WHO initiative already underway rather than pursue its own project.)

“All of us realise that we need to do something about building capacity in Africa,” Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, the industry group, said on a recent panel.

“The biggest lesson for us is that we cannot rely on the rest of the world to provide us with health security when the rest of the world is in a pandemic,” Terblanche said. “There’s a rude awakening that this cannot be repeated, ever.”

The wide gap in access between rich and poor has motivated scientists, health officials and companies to try build up Africa’s autonomy.

5. Champagne shortage:

Bottle stores and distributors across the country are feeling the burden of an ongoing Champagne shortage leading up to New Year’s Eve. Night clubs, and restaurants could lose out on sales of Champagne, potentially causing a possible loss in expected profits.

Liquor stores in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban all confirmed this week that they are facing a shortage of Champagne.

The coronavirus upset the wine market in 2020. In that year, the French committee of Champagne, Comité Champagne, said that the shipment of Champagne had decreased by 18% . The committee also confirmed a reduction in the harvest yield.

This year frost, rain, and hail had upset the Champagne market in the region, the committee said.

“Comité Champagne stresses that this year’s exceptional weather conditions may impact the quantity of grapes, but not the quality,” read their statement issued on 8 September 2021.

Sparkling wine not from the Champagne region of France, and so not eligible to carry its name, is much more readily available on shelves, and in restaurants and clubs. 

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, EWN, MyBroadband, Moneyweb and Business Insider.

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