News in South Africa 7th October:

1. UK set to slash red list:

Ministers will slash England’s travel red list to about a dozen countries, but plans for replacing the requirement for a negative PCR test with a lateral flow one to avoid isolation hang in the balance.

UK set to slash red list
Image taken by: Anugrah Lohiya

Destinations including Brazil, Mexico and South Africa are expected to be moved off the red list on Thursday, meaning passengers returning from them will not have to isolate in a hotel for 11 nights at a cost of more than £2,000.

The move means restrictions at the border will be at their loosest since the third lockdown began nine months ago.

The Foreign Office has also announced it will drastically overhaul its travel advice. Currently, it still issues advice to people not to travel to some non-red list countries for all but essential reasons based on Covid grounds.

This is separate to the health rules which are led by the Department for Transport, but significant because the discrepancy meant that travellers going to non-red list countries were not covered by normal travel insurance and so had to pay substantially more. The FCDO is no longer advising against non-essential travel to 32 countries and territories – including Algeria, Ghana and Malaysia – and will only reimpose it solely for Covid reasons “in exceptional circumstances such as if the local healthcare system is overwhelmed”.

Given the current Covid vaccines have held up against the Delta variant, which is dominant in the UK and increasingly usurping other variants overseas, government insiders are increasingly confident the move to slash the red list is safe.

However, ministers also hoped to be able to announce that PCR tests – which travellers have to test negative with to avoid isolation from non-red list countries if they are fully vaccinated – were being replaced with significantly cheaper lateral flow ones.

A source with knowledge of the discussions said the idea was still “up in the air” and “not settled yet”, sparking fears the change could be delayed until after the October half-term, when many people would be looking to take advantage of relaxed travel rules.

The final decision will be made in a meeting on Thursday morning and is expected to be announced that afternoon. Given health restrictions are a devolved matter, it will be up to the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to decide whether to follow suit.

2. Scientists did not want curfew adjusted:

On 30 September, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced South Africa’s move to Alert Level 1, dropping restrictions on alcohol sales, shortening curfew by one hour, and allowing for crowds of up to 2,000 people to gather outdoors.

Only one of those three changes were recommended by the scientific advisory group established to help guide policy around Covid-19, a memo released on Wednesday shows.

The week before Ramaphosa’s announcement, the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 had recommended that limits on booze sales be dropped – again. It had previously advised the same thing, to no avail.

But the group recommended that the curfew should be retained at 23:00 to 04:00, with restaurants, bars, and other establishments made to close at 22:00. Instead, curfew was moved to start at midnight.

The MAC also recommended dropping the absolute count for gatherings, then set at 250 people indoors or 500 outdoors. Instead, it said, any venue should be allowed “to accommodate 50% of their maximum capacity, provided they are able to ensure compliance with the 1.5 metre physical distancing rule”.

Instead, Ramaphosa announced that the maximums would be retained, but increased to 750 people indoors, and 2,000 outdoors.

3. Cosatu strikes today:

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will embark on a national strike on Thursday, to apply pressure on the government and private sector to “fix the economic mess” the country finds itself in.

The trade federation said it wants the reversal of budget cuts that have led to an unacceptable wage freeze in the public service, the disintegration of the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration, and retrenchments in state-owned companies.

4. Average wage rising due to unemployment:

While the broader economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has been robust, some sectors remain constrained, and labour market improvements are very partial, says the South African Reserve Bank.

Of the over two million jobs lost during the depth of the Covid-19 crisis in the second quarter of 2020, only around 793,000 had been recovered by the second quarter of 2021, the central bank said in its six-monthly Monetary Policy Review.

“Recovering jobs lost was always going to take time, and while there have been jobs added in some areas, on balance, the shocks to the economy suggest that the distribution of jobs across the economy may be permanently affected.”

More striking in the economy’s bounce-back is the sharp recovery in earnings to date, the Reserve Bank said.

“Whereas employment has tended to move sideways, nominal average wages in the non-agricultural sector were 5.4 percentage points above their pre-pandemic level by the first quarter of 2021. Real wages have also recovered well, being just 0.2 percentage points below their 2019 level.”

Higher wage growth typically indicates stronger labour market conditions, as it signifies rising demand for labour. However, the Reserve Bank noted that the strong recovery in average wages occurred even though the unemployment rate has climbed to record-high levels.

South Africa’s unemployment rate was 34.4% in the second quarter of 2021, up from 32.6% in Q1 2021. “The composition effect and overtime work can explain this apparent puzzle,” the Reserve Bank said.

“When lower-wage workers disproportionately lose jobs, average wages rise, with the wage bill more fully reflecting the earnings of higher-paid workers who remain employed and creating an illusion of high wage growth.”

5. Mandatory vaccinations for healthcare:

Private hospital groups Mediclinic and Life Healthcare are the latest South African businesses to introduce Covid-19 vaccination policies for staff and service providers. Mediclinic’s policy, which came into effect on 1 October, requires everyone to be fully vaccinated by February 2022. Life Healthcare told staff last week that it would introduce a compulsory vaccination policy requiring all head office employees to be vaccinated by 1 December.

While the SA Human Rights Commission said earlier this week that a law mandating vaccination would not be at odds with the constitution, the government has stopped short of making vaccination compulsory for fear of pushback, with unions opposed to compulsory immunisation.

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

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *