News in South Africa 8th January:

1. Oxford-AstraZenica delivery vaccines:

As the country recorded yet another “grim milestone” on Wednesday night – 21 832 new Covid-19 infections – the highest daily increase to date, there is finally a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel for exhausted and mentally strained healthcare workers.

Oxford-AstraZenica delivery vaccines
Image taken by: Gustavo Fring

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced on Thursday that South Africa had secured 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine producers. The first one million will be delivered this month.

The remaining 500 000 doses will be received by next month.

And first up to get the jab, as per the vaccine roll-out strategy presented by Mkhize on Sunday, will be 1.2 million healthcare workers in public and private health sector.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that the Serum Institute of India has given us permission to make a public announcement and start engaging with all relevant stakeholders in preparation for the roll out” Mkhize announced during a meeting with the Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on Thursday morning.

“As recently as Wednesday, our teams from the national department of health and the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) were fine-tuning and aligning all the regulations processes to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays or regulatory impediments to activate this roll out.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa, has reached out to a broad spectrum of players in society, saying that government cannot deal with the vaccine rollout on its own, needing support from all stakeholders. He likened it to the IEC and the elections, where parties come together and reach out to around 20 million people. Except this time, the numbers will be twice that.

The president said the vaccine is a game changer in the fight against the virus.

2. Taxi rank infections up:

The Polokwane taxi rank in Limpopo has seen an alarming rise in Covid-19 related deaths and positive cases, with four taxi owners succumbing to the virus and eight drivers testing positive in the past week alone.

The city’s taxi tycoon, Charles Ramogale, was the latest coronavirus victim to be buried on Monday, with owners Madiseng Langa and Lebogang Machaka having been buried at the weekend. Another taxi boss, David Makweya, was buried on Thursday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a driver who tested positive for Covid-19, said that while he had just received his test results, he knew that seven of his colleagues had also tested positive. The driver plies the Polokwane City to Seshego township route daily.

Seshego Polokwane Taxi Association (SPTA) spokesperson Mushita Lekganyane confirmed  the deaths, and that there had been four positive cases in his jurisdiction.

We have had four deaths of our owners in one week and four drivers that have tested positive also in the past week. We have asked those that have tested positive to stay home and recover,” Lekganyane said.

Noko Mokwatedi, spokesperson for the Moletjie Taxi Association, which shares the same hub with the SPTA, was concerned that despite the deaths and the positive tests, taxis continue to ferry passengers without having been disinfected.

She complained that the last time the department disinfected the taxis was during the first wave of infections in April last year.

3. Border troubles increasing:

South Africa’s border posts with neighbouring countries are buckling under the pressure amid hard lockdowns and strained coronavirus testing protocols. The situation at Lebombo Border – which connects South Africa and Mozambique – has now been described as a disaster, with both lives and livelihoods at serious risk.

While urgent attention remains fixed on the influx of travellers congested at the Beitbridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe, a “humanitarian crisis” is quickly developing at Lebombo. No ablution facilities nor running water and delays exceeding six days have distressing similarities to scenes which preceded Beitbridge’s Christmas Day chaos.

Despite early warning signs and South Africa’s department of home affairs committing to divert more resources to border posts, freight associations and frustrated travellers say that the Lebombo border crossing station is severely understaffed.

Queues which stretch for more than 25km, with motorists dehydrated and hungry in temperatures exceeding 32°C, have stagnated for a number of reasons. The sudden influx of cross-border travellers attempting to escape hard lockdowns in neighbouring countries or return to work in South Africa after the holiday period has piled on the pressure.

But freight associations argue that the South African government’s failure to align stringent Covid-19 protocols with the number of people required to test and screen is directly responsible for the border backlog.

“We support the requirement for the testing to be done, but border personnel are overwhelmed and cannot cope with the situation,” says Mike Fitzmaurice, CEO of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta).

4. Third wave a possibility:

The Western Cape has warned of a third wave of Covid-19 in South Africa, if government does not deliver the vaccine speedily in the country. The province is currently in the peak of its second wave.

However, without the vaccine in distribution, infections are bound to increase once again, the province warned.

Countering this, authorities say they have learned a lot from the first and second waves, especially about the new variant.

Extra beds, hospital staff and more oxygen are in place to deal with what comes over the next two weeks.

The Garden Route district has passed its COVID-19 peak and the rate of infections there has stabilised.

5. Car sales at early 2000 levels:

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in vehicle sales declining by nearly a third in 2020, taking the new vehicle market back to levels last seen in the 2000s, data from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) shows.

Naamsa – whose members include original equipment manufacturers Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, BMW and Nissan – on Thursday released new vehicle sales data for December 2020. New vehicle sales were down 10.1%, compared to December 2019. Declines were recorded across all vehicle categories. Export sales however improved by 36.3% in December 2020 compared to December 2019.

Comparing the year’s overall performance, the decline of new vehicle sales of 2.8% reported in 2019 was dwarfed by the 29.1% decline recorded in 2020.

“Vehicle sales are linked to the strength of the economy and the pandemic not only deepened an existing economic recession, but its severe impact resulted in that the domestic new vehicle market in 2020 dropped back to the levels of two decades ago,” Naamsa said.

The industry continued to struggle, despite measures to buoy consumers and indebted businesses – such as the 300-basis point cut in interest rates, Naamsa noted. The industry felt the impact of financial pressures on middle income households, as well as the travel bans which hurt the car rental market. Vehicle exports for the year also took a beating, having fallen by 29.8% compared to 2019.

All information sourced from articles posted by: Business Insider, BusinessTech, CityPress, Daily Maverick, TimesLive, ENCA, and Fin24.

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