News in South Africa 4th January 2022:

1. Updated travel restrictions for SA:

Both Germany and the US have eased some travel restrictions on South Africa, as global concerns around the Omicron variant continue to subside.

Updated travel restrictions for SA
Image taken by: Vlada Karpovich

In a proclamation issued at the end of December, US president Joe Biden said that health officials had made substantial progress in assessing the Omicron variant since it was first discovered at the end of November.

He added that there is clear evidence that people who have been vaccinated will have significantly more protection against hospitalisation, and death.

In explaining his decision to ease restrictions, Biden said that the variant has now spread to more than 100 countries – making travel restrictions less viable – and that the US has introduced new testing rules for travellers to help make travelling safer.

In a separate notice, Germany said it would ease restrictions on South African travellers from Tuesday (4 January) as it no longer considers it as a variant area of concern.

Despite these eased restrictions and a decline in local Omicron cases, South Africa still faces various travel bans at the start of 2022.

Some of the key areas to be aware of include:

Australia – Australia lifted part of its travel ban on South Africa in mid-December as part of the general reopening of borders for the first time since the pandemic started. However, this primarily applies to Australian citizens, and significant restrictions remain in place, including a block on international travellers, as well as mandatory quarantining and testing.

New Zealand  – As with Australia, international travel to New Zealand is permitted for ‘essential reasons’ only. This does not apply to nationals and residents. Travellers are also required to present a valid international certificate for full vaccination against Covid-19, with the use of an approved vaccine. The final dose must have been administered at least 14 days before travel. Vaccine requirements do not apply to New Zealand citizens.

The UK – The UK was the first country to reinstate a travel ban on South Africa after the discovery of the Omicron variant but subsequently eased restrictions in mid-December as the variant spread rapidly across the world. Some quarantine and testing requirements remain in place.

The European Union – While the news that Germany has eased restrictions will be welcomed, large parts of the EU continue to have travel bans on South Africa. France for example has placed South Africa on its Scarlet list, and almost every country in the union requires some form of testing and quarantine for entry.

The US – The Biden administration eased restrictions on travellers at the end of December, but some entry requirements remain in place. International air travellers to the United States from all countries, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, must take a Covid-19 test within one day of departure and show a negative test result before they board a flight to the country. Non-citizens travelling to the US must be fully vaccinated, subject to limited exceptions.

2. Domestic workers see big increase:

The national minimum wage looks set to increase by inflation plus one percentage point this year, with minimum pay for domestic workers matching other workers for the first time.

According to a notice by the Department of Employment and Labour, a majority of the National Minimum Wage Commission’s commissioners recommended that the national minimum wage should be increased by one percentage point above inflation. A minority wanted the minimum wage to increase by 1.5 percentage points above inflation.

The latest consumer price index (CPI) rate is 5.5%, which means that – at current rates – a hike of one percentage point (to 6.5%) will increase the minimum wage to R23.10.

Last year, the minimum wage was hiked by 4.5% to R21.69 per hour.

All the commissioners agreed that from this year, domestic workers will earn the same national minimum wage as other workers.

Currently, the minimum wage for domestic workers – at R19.09 per hour – is 12% lower than the minimum wage for other workers.

This means that this year, their minimum wage could be hiked by more than 20%, from R19.09 to R23.10 (at current inflation levels). The domestic worker minimum wage was hiked by 23% in 2021 to move it closer to the national minimum wage.

The Department of Employment and Labour said the commission will now begin taking inputs and recommendations on minimum wage adjustments.

3. Fuel prices finally drop:

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has announced the official changes to fuel prices for January 2022, revealing significant reductions for all grades of petrol and diesel.

From Wednesday, 5 January 2022, a litre of unleaded 95 petrol will cost 68 cents less at the pumps, while 93 unleaded will be 71 cents cheaper per litre.

That means both grades of petrol will again cost less than R20 per litre when bought inland.

The 500ppm diesel and 50ppm diesel prices will also go down by 67.80 cents and 69.80 cents, respectively.

In addition, the price of illuminating paraffin will also decrease by 71 cents per litre.

The changes are summarised below:

  • 93 unleaded petrol — 71 cents decrease
  • 95 unleaded petrol — 68 cents decrease
  • 500ppm diesel — 67.80 cents decrease
  • 50ppm diesel — 69.80 cents decrease
  • Illuminating paraffin — 71 cents decrease

The Department explained the decreases were primarily due to the average Brent Crude oil price falling from $83 to $76 per barrel for the period under review. Refined petroleum prices followed suit, which led to lower contributions to South Africa’s Basic Fuel Price.

These prices changes were primarily due to global concerns over the impact of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The reduction could have been more substantial had it not been for the Rand depreciating against the US dollar during the same period. The local currency traded at R15.92 to the dollar compared to R15.40 during the previous period.

Had it remained at the same level, the prices would have gone down by another 29 cents, which would have seen 93 unleaded petrol drop by R1 per litre.

4. Halting state capture report:

A last-minute urgent application to court has been made to stop the handing over of part one of the state capture report, saying President Cyril Ramaphosa has been “implicated by many witnesses”.

In its court papers, nongovernmental organisation Democracy in Action asked the Johannesburg high court to hear it at 4pm on Monday “or as soon as counsel may be heard”. 

Meanwhile, part one of the report is due to be handed to the president and released to the public on Tuesday afternoon.

The organisation has asked the high court to interdict the hand over pending part B of its case, in which it wants the court to order that the report be delivered to Deputy President David Mabuza.     

Democracy in Action’s Thabo Mtsweni says in an affidavit that Ramaphosa was the deputy president of SA during the years investigated by the state-capture commission. He was also head of the ANC’s deployment committee and “played a role in the appointment of some of the leaders of state-owned enterprises, which were central to the state capture commission”.

Ramaphosa was the leader of government business as deputy president and on the interministerial committee of the “Eskom war room”, which was central to the commission, said Mtsweni.  

There was also evidence led before the commission that Ramaphosa was “the shareholder” at Glencore, a contractor to Eskom, also “central” to some of the evidence led, he said.

He said Ramaphosa was “implicated by many witnesses during the commission, hence he is not best suited to receive the report”.

If the report was handed to Ramaphosa, it would go against the principles set out in that case, said Mtsweni, “as the report will be in the hands of the person implicated by the witnesses”.

5. Money wasted on supplements:

South Africans are spending significant amounts of money, from their own pockets, on Covid-19 supplements that are not recommended, a Business Insider South Africa survey has found.

In December Business Insider reported that medical aids that had been covering the cost of some vitamins and minerals for Covid-19 patients were changing their rules, as evidence continues to mount against the efficacy of supplements.

Business Insider asked their readers whether they had taken any of the popular Covid-19 supplements, and how much they had paid. We heard from 230 respondents, among which 219 told us they had taken some form of vitamin or mineral supplement for Covid-19.

Here’s what they stated:

  • Many doctors prescribed supplements – but most people bought their own
  • Most people didn’t check if their medical aid would pay for their vitamins
  • South Africans spent a lot of money on supplements
  • Very few people knew that supplements are not recommended
  • Vitamin C is a popular supplement, with zinc close behind

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Fin24, MyBroadband, Business Day, and Business Insider.

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