News in South Africa 7th January:

1. Vaccines lower risk of dying to Omicron:

Fully vaccinated individuals have 3.8 times lower risk of dying of the Omicron variant than non-vaccinated individuals.

Vaccinates lower risk of dying to Omicron
Image taken by: Thirdman

This is according to data by the Western Cape Department of Health, released in a digital briefing on Thursday, which showed the effectiveness of vaccination against the Omicron variant.

The data showed that Covid-19 vaccines offered similar protection against Omicron as other variants. The vaccines offered a 3.2 times lower risk of death in previous Covid-19 variants.

In addition, vaccinated individuals had 3.3 times less risk of developing severe illness should they contract Omicron. This was 3.4 times less with previous variants.

The department found that of 55 Covid-19 deaths recorded in the Western Cape over a four-week period, 50 patients were not fully vaccinated.

The data showed that in patients 60 and older, 32 deaths had occurred between 15 November and 11 December. Of these deaths, 28 had been partially vaccinated or unvaccinated patients.

In the 35 to 49 age group, which had the second-highest number of deaths over the same four weeks, of the 11 deaths recorded only one was a fully vaccinated individual.

In addition, the department said its raw data indicated that vaccination offered protection against infection, across all age groups.

On 7 December, almost 66% of those 60 and older in the province had been fully vaccinated. However, this group of fully vaccinated individuals made up only 21.6% of cases in the age group.

In those aged 50 to 59, fully vaccinated individuals made up 56.7% of the population. However, this group accounted for only 22.3% of the Covid-19 cases in that age cohort.

These two age groups were most at risk of developing severe symptoms, admission or death should they contract Covid-19.

2. State of disaster must end:

Western Cape premier Alan Winde has reiterated calls to end South Africa’s state of disaster as the country looks to bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022.

In a media briefing on Thursday (6 January), Winde confirmed that the Western Cape has now passed the peak of its fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, with a consistent decline in cases expected in the coming weeks.

“This is now unquestionable data that we have the ability and capacity to manage Covid-19 without a disaster declaration, and that the time has come to normalize our response,” he said.

We do not need the national state of disaster, which is an extreme tool imposed with the primary intention of protecting our health platform. It must be allowed to expire by minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.”

Winde said that the national government has had more than enough time to put in place alternative management systems outside of a disaster declaration.

“I already called in October last year for a roadmap to be made public that would enable the termination of the disaster now. The public and the economy should not be expected to wait any longer.”

The premier said that focus must now turn to the country’s ‘second pandemic’ in its worsening jobs crisis. “A job is a ticket out of poverty. It is the best way to fight crime. It prevents hunger and ensures children can grow healthily, getting onto a ladder of opportunity. We need to fight this pandemic with the same energy and passion, and the Western Cape Government intends to do so.”

Top public health official, John Nkengasong, said on Thursday that he was encouraged by the way that South Africa has handled its latest Covid-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant, adding that severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain the virus.

“We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa during this period where they look at the data in terms of severity,” Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC),” Reuters reported.

“The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over. We should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases.”

3. More to be prosecuted at SAA:

There are growing calls for some current and former staff at South African Airways (SAA) to be prosecuted alongside those cited in the first part of the state capture commissions report.

The commission has singled out former chairperson Dudu Myeni as being among those responsible for the airline’s costly demise.

But the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) said that it believed that there were still many more people to blame for the corruption and maladministration at the airline.

They said that the commission did not get to all who were responsible.

Managing editor at SA Flyer Magazine, Guy Leitch: “I think she was one of the many incompetents who were posted to positions of power within the organisation and as the good people left, so cronies or comrades, call them what you like, were appointed and that is one of the reasons why the airlines losses swiftly swelled from roughly a billion rand a year to R6 billion a year because of the incompetents who were appointed to replace the honest competents who had left.”

4. Zuma’s TNA cost SOEs R240mil:

In mid-2010, the Gupta family launched The New Age (TNA), a national daily newspaper around which they would quickly build a media empire, including a 24/7 television news channel.

The newspaper had been his idea, former President Jacob Zuma later told the state capture commission, right down to its name.

And it was the interactions between that newspaper and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) under Zuma’s administration that showed how flatly unlawfully money was extracted from the state for the benefit of the Gupta business, said Justice Raymond Zondo in the first part of his report on state capture delivered this week – and how involved Zuma was, personally.

Zondo counted a total of more than R240 million spent by SOEs with The New Age, just in major contracts, before it finally shut down under the control of Mzwanele Manyi, who now acts as a spokesperson for Zuma.

Not a cent of that should ever have been paid, Zondo found.

Government’s central communications agency, GCIS, spent R34 million with TNA, said Zondo. Eskom paid it just under R60 million, and Transnet paid it more than R147 million. SAA also bought newspapers in bulk.

“The TNA investigation conducted by the Commission has shown that contracts concluded between TNA and Transnet, Eskom and SAA were not only irregular but wasteful, too.”

The requirements of the Public Finance Management Act made “every one of the TNA contracts unlawful”, said Zondo.

Zondo recommended that various people at the state companies should be investigated for what he considers clear legal breaches in the handling of payments to The New Age. But it was clear where the support for the Gupta publication ultimately came from, his report shows.

5. Petrol prices to stay high in 2022:

The decrease in fuel prices for January is as welcome as the increase in December 2021 were unwelcome. But motorists should still try to save petrol as much as possible – and avoid the temptation to buy a big, thirsty vehicle – the petrol price is likely to stay high during 2022.

General consensus is that oil prices will remain at current levels for a few months, at best, and then start to increase again.

The AA noted that higher infection rates in the northern hemisphere may lead to lower consumer and industrial demand for petroleum products, as was seen in the initial waves of Covid-19 in 2020 especially.

“However, this should not distract from the fact that the current fuel prices are still far in excess of what South Africans were paying just a few months ago,” it warns.

The retail price of petrol dropped by between 68 and 71 cents a litre and the wholesale price of diesel was reduced by between 67.8c and 69.8c a litre.

These reductions put the inland price of 93 octane petrol at R19.36 per litre and that of higher quality diesel at R17.28 per litre.

However, as the AA pointed out, fuel prices are still significantly higher than what it used to be.

A look at the historic prices published by the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) shows that petrol was selling at between R14.16 and R14.86 per litre a year ago and that the wholesale price of diesel was just above R13 per litre.

Thus, the new “lower” petrol price is still some 32% higher than in January 2021, while the wholesale price of diesel is around 33% higher than a year ago.

Except for 2020, the petrol price has been inching upwards year after year and this year might not be different.

The oil price recovered swiftly and sharply from it 2020 crash – when it fell to below $20 per barrel – and breached $80 per barrel again.

Forecasts

Forecasting the oil price and exchange rate are always difficult. Getting both right is nearly impossible.

However, it is noticeable that most forecasts call for oil to remain at current levels at best, or move higher.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) says in its latest report that Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $81 per barrel in November, a decrease of $3 from October 2021, but a massive $38 higher than in November 2020.

“Crude oil prices have risen over the past year as result of steady draws on global oil inventories, which averaged 1.4 million barrels per day during the first three quarters of 2021. Crude oil prices fell significantly on November 26 and the Brent spot price began December below $70/b,” it adds.

“The drop in prices followed the identification of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant, which raised the possibility that petroleum demand could decline in the near term,” it notes.

While oil price increased during the last week or so, the rand also weakened. The rand dropped to R15.77 to the dollar, compared to around R14 at the beginning of December. If the current oil prices and exchange rate persist throughout January, the recent decrease in fuel prices would most likely be reversed in February.

In addition, the performance of the currency during 2022 will probably be the most significant factor influencing fuel prices for SA motorists during the year.


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

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