1. PCR tests and travel issues:
South Africa’s coronavirus-induced state of disaster has ended, but some transitional regulations remain, including rules on entering the country, which could complicate family holidays.
This new phase sees an end to the state of disaster, announced on Monday night, and a transition to legislation within the National Health Act that deals with notifiable medical conditions.
Some familiar transitional regulations will remain in place for 30 days while government finalises changes to the National Health Act. This includes wearing a facemask in indoor public spaces, limits on social gatherings, and the continued payment of Social Relief of Distress Grants.
It also upholds current travel regulations. This requires that travellers entering South Africa either provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours. These same regulations are proposed as amendments to the National Health Act.
And while South Africa’s embattled tourism industry has welcomed the end of the national state of disaster and recent amendments scrapping pre-arrival testing for fully vaccinated travellers, concerns around the new rules remain.
As it currently stands, children above the age of five who are not vaccinated are required to produce a negative PCR test result.
In South Africa, like in other parts of the world, Covid-19 vaccinations are only open to those older than 12-years-old.
“This means even if parents are fully vaccinated, a family with children aged between five and 12 years has no choice but to have to pay for PCR tests, which we know in certain countries like the UK is not only onerous to obtain, but also expensive,” explained Rosemary Anderson, national chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA).
Not only is this problematic for families visiting South Africa from abroad – in cases where vaccinations are not yet open to children younger than 12 – it’s also a stumbling block for South African travellers looking to re-enter the country with kids.
Upholding entry regulations that add further travel costs – and time and effort – to those visiting or returning to South Africa will do little to aid the tourism and hospitality sectors’ recovery. Anderson also highlighted the irony of these prohibitive measures against the backdrop of international travel restrictions imposed on South African travellers due to the discovery of new coronavirus variants.
2. Skeptic about covid plans:
Health minister Joe Phaahla has defended the government’s plan to manage the coronavirus pandemic with amendments to existing health regulations, saying the government isn’t looking to control people’s lives.
Critics have said that managing the pandemic under health regulations will give the minister too much power to impose restrictions that limit civil liberties. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday that the cabinet had agreed to lift the national state of disaster on 5 April.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has warned that government can declare a national state of disaster again should Covid-19 infections spiral.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, Dlamini Zuma said the Covid-19 pandemic no longer qualified as a disaster.
As of Monday evening, the pandemic is being managed in terms of the National Health Act while the draft Health Regulations have been published for public comment – and which close on 16 April. Once the comments have been considered, the new regulations will be finalised and promulgated.
The Minister said, however, that cabinet could revert back to the National State of Disaster should the COVID-19 pandemic escalate and reach a level where it became a disaster.
“If we look after ourselves, wear masks and make sure that we do what needs to be done… we may avoid a situation where this pandemic becomes a disaster again. That is what we’re hoping for. In the event that it becomes a disaster, we will have to revert back to the Act.”
3. Workplace covid regulations:
There is still a complex landscape of rules and regulations for employers to navigate, regarding Covid, say employment law experts at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.
The firm said that the most notable transitionary provisions in the employment context are as follows:
- The wearing of face masks is mandatory when in an indoor public space (which includes the workplace) for all persons above the age of six;
- No person, above the age of six years of age, shall be permitted to use public transport or enter or occupy any building or premises used by the public to obtain goods and services without wearing a face mask;
- Face masks are not mandatory in open public spaces however social distancing of at least 1 meter must be maintained;
- No employer may allow any employee to perform their duties or to enter the employment premises if the employee is not wearing a face mask while performing their duties;
- Gatherings at a workplace for work purposes are permitted subject to strict adherence to all health protocols and social distancing measures;
- Only the 21 land borders which were operational in terms of the last alert level 1 will remain open during the transitionary period;
- International air travel is limited to the following airports; O.R Tambo International Airport, King Shaka International Airport, Cape Town International Airport, Lanseria International Airport, and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport;
- Travel to and from South Africa is permitted subject to persons producing a valid vaccination certificate or a negative Covid-19 test recognised by the World Health Organisation which is no older than 72 hours.
Among other things, the Covid Code reiterates an employer’s right to implement a vaccine mandate and clarifies the grounds on which employees can refuse the vaccine, say experts at legal firm Baker McKenzie.
The Covid Code creates a legal framework for managing the pandemic and its impact on the workplace. The rules now make specific provisions for employers to ascertain their employees’ vaccination status.
Employers will no longer be required to screen employees daily for Covid-19 symptoms or report such information. Employees will only be obliged to inform employers when they have Covid-19 symptoms. Employers will be entitled to request a negative Covid-19 test to allow the employee to return to the office.
According to the new rules, employees no longer have to limit their refusal to vaccinate on constitutional or medical grounds. Where employees base their refusal on a contraindication to the vaccine, the employee must produce a medical certificate confirming this.
The employer may then request that the employee be medically assessed to confirm their medical status, which the employer must pay for. Employers must reasonably accommodate employees who refuse vaccination.
In recent cases at the CCMA, the employment tribunal has upheld numerous employers’ decisions to dismiss or suspend employees who refused to get vaccinated or take regular tests.
Taking into consideration the Covid Code, the updated regulations and a recent decision by the labour court, employers could implement an admission policy, which would require employees to present either a vaccination certificate or a negative Covid test (at the employees’ expense) in order to enter the office.
4. Unclaimed pensions at R47bn:
The Financial Sector Conduct Authority’s (FSCA) attempts to reunite unclaimed retirement benefits with their rightful owners have only helped over 14 000 people to get R1.2 billion in payments.
The regulator published the Financial Sector Outlook Study on Tuesday, in which it also detailed progress made in finding people with unclaimed monies in pension funds and guardian funds.
The study showed that unclaimed retirement benefits increased to more than R47.3 billion at the end of 2021, rising from R42 billion previously reported for 2015 and 2018.
The FSCA’s study showed that almost 80% of the unclaimed funds are with trade union-affiliated pension funds, and the majority of these unpaid members are low-income miners. There are 1 623 of these occupational retirement funds, and of the 4.8 million beneficiaries of unclaimed benefits in SA, 3.8 million should look for their monies there.
The second biggest area housing these funds is the unclaimed benefit funds. These are funds created by private sector investment houses specifically to keep money that has not been claimed for a long time. Beneficiary funds, which predominantly safeguard retirement benefits due to minor children, only have 0.2% of the unclaimed benefits to the value of R118 billion.
As the awareness of the billions sitting in unclaimed benefits grew, with the investment industry and the regulator taking flak from groups like the Unpaid Benefits Campaign, the FSCA implemented what it called the “Know-Your-Customer” directive.
The search engine implemented under that directive led to the payment of approximately R1.2 billion in benefits cited in the study.
The FSCA said while the National Treasury previously announced that it was looking at legislation that can consolidate unclaimed retirement benefits in one place, it continues to prioritise the fair treatment of beneficiaries and hopes to reduce unclaimed benefits further.
5. War affecting grain trade:
Across Ukraine’s farm belt, silos are bursting with 15 million tons of corn from the autumn harvest, most of which should have been hitting world markets.
The stockpiles — about half the corn Ukraine had been expected to export for the season — have become increasingly difficult to get to buyers, providing a glimpse into the turmoil Russia’s war has wrought in the approximately $120 billion global grains trade. Already gummed up by supply-chain bottlenecks, skyrocketing freight rates and weather events, markets are bracing for more upheavals as deliveries from Ukraine and Russia — which together account for about a quarter of the world’s grains trade — turn increasingly complicated and raise the specter of food shortages.
Before Russia’s attack, Ukraine’s corn would have made its way to Black Sea ports like Odesa and Mykolaiv by rail and loaded on to ships bound for Asia and Europe. But with the ports shuttered, small amounts of corn are creakily winding their way westward by rail through Romania and Poland before being shipped out. An added aggravation: wheels on the wagons have to be changed at the border because unlike European rails, Ukrainian train-cars run on wider, Soviet-era tracks.
“Railways are not supposed to go that way with the grain,” Kateryna Rybachenko, deputy chair of the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club, said in an interview. “This makes the whole logistics very expensive and inefficient, and also very slow. Logistically, it’s a big problem.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of corn, wheat and sunflower oil, flows of which are largely stalled. Grains exports are currently limited to 500 000 tons a month, down from as much as 5 million tons before the war, a loss of $1.5 billion, the country’s agriculture ministry says. Crops from Russia — the world’s biggest exporter of wheat — are still flowing, but questions persist over delivery and payment for future cargoes.
Disruptions in the flows of grains and oilseeds — staples for billions of people and animals across the world — are sending prices soaring. Countries fearing potential food shortages are scrambling to find alternative suppliers and new trades are emerging.
India, which historically kept its huge wheat harvests at home — thanks to a government-set price — is jumping into the export market, hawking record amounts across Asia. Brazil’s exports of wheat in the first three months have far surpassed those in all of last year. US corn cargoes are heading to Spain for the first time in about four years. And Egypt is considering swapping fertilizer for Romanian grain and holding wheat talks with Argentina.
Even those efforts may not be good enough, said Dan Basse, president of AgResource, an agriculture markets research firm.
“We can move the deck-chairs around today,” he said. But if the conflict stretches into the summer, when wheat exports from the Black Sea usually accelerate, “then you start running into problems. That’s when the world starts to see shortfalls,” Basse said.