News in South Africa 9th December:
1. Infection rate accelerating:
On Wednesday, South Africa’s fourth wave of coronavirus infections overtook the peak of the first wave, as the Omicron variant spreads far and fast.
The 19,842 new cases added to the national tally on Wednesday is the highest one-day number since July this year, when the Delta-driven third wave was in full swing.
That one-day count is well above the peak seen on 24 July last year, the worst of the first wave, when 13,944 new cases were recorded.
Thanks to rapid growth in December, the 7-day moving average of new cases for South Africa – a more reliable measure for the state of the pandemic because it smooths out bureaucratic reporting lumps – is now also well above the peak of the first wave.
Hospital admissions have been climbing fast, but from a very low base in late November, and the number of people on ventilators and in intensive care remains low.On Wednesday, the number of people in hospital stands at 4,252, with 368 in ICU.
In both the second and third waves, admissions peaked above 17,000, with just under and just over 2,500 people in intensive care at peak for the second and third waves, respectively.
The Omicron wave had so far brought relatively mild symptoms, doctors have reported, albeit with heavy warnings that it was too early to tell for sure.
2. Provincial travel may be possible:
Prospects look good for South Africans who are planning domestic travel this holiday season, with the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) saying that banning provincial travel to try and stem the rising Omicron Covid infections would not make any sense.
Committee chairperson Professor Koleka Mlisana said that many South Africans have already been exposed to the virus across all provinces.
“Insofar as restrictions are concerned, because so many South Africans have been exposed to the virus already, even Omicron – we are seeing it across almost all provinces – it wouldn’t make any sense to restrict travel within the country because the variant is everywhere.” – Professor Koleka Mlisana, Chairperson – Ministerial Advisory Committee
The variant is everywhere, so banning travel wouldn’t have any effect, Mlisana said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to soon address the nation on possible lockdown restrictions and the government’s position on vaccine mandates.
3. Mandatory vaccines work:
Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) says that it has no plans to approach the Constitutional Court to get a declaratory order on mandatory Covid-19 vaccines, but existing Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations are sufficient to boost the country’s vaccination numbers.
The business group pointed to the success of financial services group Discovery which has vaccinated 94% of its staff as of the end of November 2021.
“We have taken the view that the current OHS guidelines enable employers to put into place mechanisms to enable vaccination of all staff to meet their responsibility of ensuring a safe workplace for all their staff. This is being undertaken within the confines of the guidelines, and we are seeing incredibly positive responses from all staff in firms that have applied the OHS guidelines.
“Discovery has indicated that staff vaccinations have risen from barely one fifth to over 94% in the three months since they announced plans to make jabs compulsory from 1 January 2022. We have seen comparable results in other firms. This is exactly the type of behaviour we need to encourage, and we urge more employers to follow suit.”
Busa said that the science is clear that vaccinated people will not get seriously ill if they contract the virus. Vaccinating is also a necessary element to manage the virus and avoid a harder lockdown, it said.
Notably, Discovery’s decision to introduce a mandatory vaccination policy has also opened the door to other companies to introduce their own policies using similar methods.
In the last week, pharmacy group Dis-Chem, telecommunication giant MTN and Standard Bank have all confirmed that they will introduce similar policies at the start of 2022.
Other notable companies which have introduced a vaccination policy include:
- Curro Holdings
- Life Healthcare
- Old Mutual
4. Pfizer booster shot approved:
Scientists are welcoming SAHPRA’s approval of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.
It will be available for anyone over the age of 18 and must be taken six months after the second dose.
Pfizer says the booster will be effective against the Omicron variant.
Mosa Moshabela from UKZN says the lack of research on mixing and matching vaccines is disappointing.
“We’ve been wanting the Pfizer vaccine to become available for people who have conditions associated with weak immune systems, as well as people who are 60 years and above. So that’s really good news which means we could make booster shots for those groups available,” he said.
Researchers said that the next step is to get approval for the mix-and-match Covid treatment, allowing the different vaccines to be used in combination. SAHPRA said that it does not yet have evidence to support this approach, so it is not yet an approved treatment but welcomes any applications where data on this is available.
5. Eskom wants 20% more:
The tension between Eskom and its regulator Nersa escalated on Wednesday after the regulator published a discussion paper on Eskom’s revenue application.
In a statement issued barely two hours later, Eskom accused Nersa of “misrepresenting” its application “to include various matters that are still under consideration by both the courts and by Nersa itself.”
Eskom CFO Calib Cassim has confirmed that Eskom has applied for an average tariff increase of 20.5% for the next financial year. The new tariffs will apply from April 1 next year for Eskom’s direct customers and from July 1 for municipalities.
This includes R14.4 billion in revenue in relation to underrecovery in previous years. Nersa has already finalised its decisions relating to the quantum and the timing of the recovery regarding these amounts.
According to Nersa’s discussion document the total increase may amount to 54.35%, taking into account additional amounts Eskom applied for as clawbacks from previous years that Nersa has not yet determined as well R46 billion under consideration by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The high court earlier reviewed and set aside a decision by Nersa to deduct a total of R69 billion of government assistance to Eskom from Eskom’s allowable revenue.