News in South Africa 5th January:
1. Lesotho borders temporarily closed:
SA temporarily closed border gates with Lesotho at Ficksburg because it could not handle the number of people who wanted to cross.
At the Beitbridge border post with Zimbabwe, health minister Zweli Mkhize spoke about large numbers of fake coronavirus test results being presented.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Monday said it was not clear if there were syndicates selling fake COVID-19 tests to foreign nationals returning to work but at least 50 such tests were found at the Beitbridge Border Post with Zimbabwe.
Thousands of workers from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique are returning but they are required to have COVID-19 tests that are not more 72 hours old.
At the Ficksburg border with Lesotho, gates were closed temporarily earlier as many of the travellers who wanted to pass through overwhelmed officials there.
Motsoaledi said security had been increased along borders to prevent illegal crossings.
“Part of our plan was to identify areas where people have a tendency to cross illegally into South Africa whether through the river or through the fence or any other part of the border line – those areas are known.”
There is no official word – yet – on whether more stringent checks being considered will affect already long freight waiting times.
2. Government vaccine procurement criticism:
The moment the Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize forgot to switch on his screen at the commencement of a press conference, which was designed to inform the country of the vaccine rollout, was a foreshadow of the disorganised state of the so-called rollout of vaccines. The entire 90 minutes were characterised by generality and little detail.
If this claim appears harsh, then it is important to start with the obligations imposed by the Constitution on the government, Section 27 of the Constitution provides the right for everyone to have access to health care. To implement this right, the State is required to take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of the right.
In the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) case, which dealt with the government’s failure to provide nevirapine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the Constitutional Court found that the government plan was not reasonable, albeit that it was not required to do more than simply have a plan that would, within its available resources, progressively ensure coverage.
Within this context, the content of the press conference can be evaluated. At best, we now know that the government will be able to access some vaccine as a result of it being part of the COVAX arrangement at some point, whether it be February or March 2021, thereafter frontline health care workers will receive the vaccine. Whether South Africa’s entire cohort of health care workers will be inoculated is not clear.
The implementation thereafter was described in only general terms. This was almost a year since the outbreak of the pandemic and months after it was clear to the whole world that vaccines would be produced that would prove efficacious. Yet, our government still has no clear plan that could be implemented tomorrow in the unlikely event that a quantity of vaccine would be available.
In short, there is no reasonable plan to progressively vaccinate the population.
Save for the severely limited COVAX-sourced supply, there is no concrete, and visible, plan to access adequate supply or distribute it. We are told that by year-end, the objective is to ensure that some 40-million people will be vaccinated to ensure herd immunity but, in the absence of a clear line of access to 40-million vaccines (80-million, if two doses are required), this is not a plan but rather an aspiration.
3. Tobacco court ruling appeal:
The government will appeal the Western Cape High Court judgment that the ban on the trade of tobacco products during the hard lockdown — aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 — was unnecessary.
The case was brought to court by tobacco traders, including British American Tobacco SA (Batsa), after the sale of tobacco products were banned during the hard lockdown. The sale of tobacco products was allowed again only in mid-August when the country moved to level 2 of the lockdown.
In the judgment, the court found that Regulation 45 — which Dlamini-Zuma used to effect the ban — could not stand up to constitutional scrutiny, was unnecessary and would not serve objectives set out in Section 27 of the Disaster Management Act.
The court also found Regulation 45 limited the smokers’ and vapers’ rights to human dignity because it denied them the choice of buying tobacco products and in so doing affected their their autonomy to choose whether to consume such products.
In court papers, minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa will petition the Supreme Court of Appeal to overturn the judgment.
4. Eskom under strain:
Eskom has taken unit one of Koeberg offline earlier than planned for scheduled maintenance, after “an increasing leak rate was observed on one of three steam generators”. The unit had been scheduled to be taken offline for refuelling and routine maintenance starting in February. Eskom says it expects the unit “to return to service during May 2021”.
Koeberg supplies stable and predictable baseload power generation of just more than 1 800 megawatts (MW), which halved after 6pm on Sunday evening when the unit was taken offline (yellow in the chart below). Of concern is the fact that it now has to replace the ±900MW shortfall, especially during the evening peak.
Eskom continues to use pumped storage schemes – designed for peak periods – for baseload power generation. On Sunday, for example, it used these to generate between 500MW and 1 800MW throughout the day. Once Koeberg 1 was removed from the grid, the usage of these peaked at 2 071MW (at 7pm). Pumped storage schemes are net consumers of power in that they use more electricity to operate than each unit of power they produce. This is what makes them such effective peaking plants – ‘excess’ power is used to pump water uphill overnight when demand is low.
Last week – historically the lowest-demand period of the year (lockdown level five, excluded) – the utility was forced to implement Stage 2 load shedding overnight. It said this was to “preserve its emergency generation reserves”. From its publicly available dashboards, it is clear that Eskom simply did not have sufficient headroom overnight to use baseload power to replenish its pumped storage schemes (which it was using to augment baseload power throughout the day).
The only way Eskom avoids load shedding is to give itself more headroom (by doing less planned maintenance, which is unlikely) or by ensuring (read: hoping) that it can keep unplanned breakdowns well below the 12 000MW level. We’ll known whether it’s chosen the former once its weekly system status reports for this week and next are published.
5. Private sector to help with vaccines:
South African medical-insurance companies, business organizations and the government are developing a program in which the private sector will help fund Covid-19 vaccines for people not covered by insurance.
Legislation has been amended to allow the companies to fund shots for people who don’t have medical insurance and talks are now focused on the number of those who may benefit, said Stavros Nicolaou, head of the Health Workgroup for B4SA, a grouping of South Africa’s biggest business organizations.
In addition to medical insurers, companies such as miners may contribute funds so their workers can be covered, he said.
“We are looking at a model of some cover for uncovered patients,” he said in an interview on Monday. “For every funded person, there will be a contribution to the unfunded.”
As of 2019, 17% of South Africa’s population was covered by medical insurance, according to the national statistics agency. South Africa, with 1.13 million confirmed infections and over 30,000 deaths, is the nation in Africa most affected by Covid-19.
Allowing medical insurers or companies to import vaccines solely for their own members or employees could spark tension in South Africa, which is one of the world’s most unequal societies. The government is already struggling to meet a host of economic challenges, with many state companies dependent on bailouts from the budget.
A panel looking into how the program will work is headed by Adrian Gore, the chief executive officer of Discovery Ltd., South Africa’s biggest medical insurance company.