News in South Africa 3rd December:

1. Vaccines mandatory from next year:

South Africa, which is contending with a massive upsurge in coronavirus infections following the onset of the omicron variant, is readying a mandatory vaccine policy and is set to implement it early next year, a senior labor union official said.

Vaccines mandatory from next year
Image take by: Thirdman

Broad agreement has been reached on the policy in the National Economic Development and Labor Council, a negotiating forum, although some details have yet to be ironed out.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s biggest labour group, which initially opposed forcing people to get inoculated, has now joined business groups in backing the move.

“Getting to a 90% vaccination rate is in the interest of our members,”  Matthew Parks, the parliamentary coordinator for Cosatu, which forms part of Nedlac, said in an interview. “We can save their lives and their jobs. What we not going to do is support further lockdowns when we have lost two million jobs.”

South Africa has detected almost 3 million coronavirus infections so far and nearly 90,000 of those who were diagnosed with the disease have died — although excess deaths data indicates the actual toll is about three times higher. New cases have soared since last week as omicron took hold in the country.

About 36% of the adult population has been vaccinated so far and despite an ample supply of shots being available, hesitancy to take them remains high. On Nov. 26, President Cyril Ramaphosa flagged that the government was considering introducing mandatory vaccines for some activities and locations, and said a task team is looking into the matter.

“If a person chooses not to be vaccinated, they cannot also choose to engage in social activities that place others at risk,” Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the Presidency, said in a column in Johannesburg’s Business Day newspaper on Wednesday.

“We are at a crucial turning point in our response to the pandemic. We cannot afford further restrictions on economic activity or the uncertain pendulum swings that have characterized lockdowns in the past.”

Discovery, the owner of South Africa’s largest health-insurance administrator, and other firms have already made it compulsory for their workers to be vaccinated and seen uptake of the shots surge as a result.

While Cosatu’s affiliates were split over whether to compel workers to get vaccinated, its leadership decided that the pros outweighed the cons.

2. Travel bans thwart Omicron research:

Not only have travel bans against South Africa caused untold destruction to the local tourism industry, they have also thwarted scientists’ efforts in better understanding and researching the Omicron variant.

SA is seeing an increase in Covid-19 reinfections due to the Omicron variant but symptoms for reinfected patients and those infected after vaccination appear to be mild, a scientist studying the outbreak of the new strain said.

The new variant, which has caused global fears of a surge in infections, was first detected in Southern Africa and is fast overtaking Delta to become the dominant variant in SA, where case numbers are rising dramatically.

“Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now with Omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Anne von Gottberg, microbiologist at SA’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

She told an online news conference hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that she and her colleagues believed reinfections with Omicron and breakthrough infections in vaccinated patients would feature less severe symptoms.

Von Gottberg said the travel bans imposed by many countries on passengers from SA were having a negative impact on the logistics of scientific research into Omicron.

“There are fewer flights to choose from to bring in reagents, to bring in equipment, in addition to sending out specimens and isolates for people to be able to then work with Omicron,” she said.

Isolates are cultures of micro-organisms isolated for study.

African leaders have complained about the travel restrictions, saying their countries are being penalised for their transparency in reporting data on the new variant.

More than 50% of African nations can now do the genomic sequencing to identify the variant, the WHO said, and those that cannot are partnered with nations that can.

3. R250bn in expected festive spending:

This year’s festive spending is expected to increase by 20% compared with the previous year, despite household food basket contractions on the back of high food prices.

Based on Statistics SA’s mid-year population size estimates, this means consumers are set to pump R252 billion into the local economy.

This is according to the Summer Spending survey conducted by short-term lender Wonga.

The survey reveals that consumers are budgeting to spend an average of R6 326 over and above their usual monthly expenses during the festive season, compared with R5 673 in 2020.

Of those surveyed, 41% said they are better off financially in this year’s season and only 23% say they are in the same financial position as last year.

“Our survey revealed that 37% of people think they’ll spend more this festive season than they did in 2020, despite the ongoing financial impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had,” says Bryan Smith, content manager at Wonga.

“The increase in predicted spend overall is significant and the figures this year are encouraging, reflecting the upward trajectory of the economy,” he adds.

According to senior equity analyst at Sasfin Bank Alec Abraham, the projection that consumers will spend more this year is only plausible in nominal terms.

“While employment has not recovered, a number of factors such as the extension of the Social Relief of Distress grant, an uptick [compared with 2020] in unsecured lending, higher prices, and no retail restrictions like liquor sales to speak of should support higher nominal total retail sales,” he says.

However, Abraham adds that in terms of the liquor sales, the expected uptick may change by December depending on the progression of the fourth wave.

4. Tomato and potato prices surge:

Tomato prices in South Africa have skyrocketed once again after major producing regions experienced heavy rainfall over the past two months.

The price of the fruit surged 21% to R5,40 per kilogram in one week, following wet weather that affected harvests. The supply shock resulted in fresh produce markets around the country receiving significantly fewer tomatoes, Johnny van der Merwe, managing director of agricultural information group Agrimark Trends (AMT), said in his weekly video that tracks market prices for fresh produce.

“The latest tomato price increased by 21% to R5,40 per kilogram last week, which was due to a 19% decrease in supply levels,” Van der Merwe said.

If we continue to have a wetter climate, tomato prices will likely continue to increase next year, he said.

Given that tomatoes are a staple food in the country, any drop in supply is usually immediately felt as prices spike while demand remains constant, said Garret.

Tomatoes are not the only staple food that has seen a significant price spike. Potatoes also saw a massive increase in prices.

For a 10 kilogram bag of potatoes, consumers are now paying R41,29, a surge of 39%, Van Der Merwe said in his weekly update.

“When we look into the latest price movements in the vegetable industry, we saw the potato prices increasing by 39%.”

5. Emalahleni owes Eskom over R5bn:

The Emalahleni local municipality in Mpumalanga has revealed that it owes Eskom over R5 billion for unpaid electricity.

It has, therefore, handed over to its lawyers the accounts of some 30 defaulting customers, in a quest to collect the revenue and pay the debt.

Emalahleni’s communications manager, Lebo Mofokeng, stated this week that the municipality was experiencing a high rate of non-payment of various services by residents, businesses and some government departments.

He said the current rate of unemployment in Emalahleni was high, adding that it also contributed to the non-payment issue.

“If you have electricity arrears that are more than three months, we will cut off your power supply, but it’s negotiable if you make arrangements to pay,” said Mofokeng.

“About 30 big and small businesses in Emalahleni have been handed over to the attorneys for them to make [payment] arrangements for electricity. The municipality has adopted and is vigorously implementing the credit control and debt collection policy on all defaulting customers.”

Mofokeng said the municipality was paying its over R5 billion debt to Eskom on a monthly basis. He said the power utility would not cut off power supply to the municipality in the near future.

“The municipality has won a case against Eskom in the Constitutional Court and power will not be switched off any time soon, unless Eskom approaches the court again,” said Mofokeng.

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

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