News in South Africa 9th March:

1. Stage 4 load shedding:

Eskom has announced that it will move to stage 4 load shedding at 09h00 on Wednesday (9 March) due to a further breakdown in units.

Stage 4 load shedding
Image taken by: Dazzle Jam

The power utility said stage 4 load shedding will continue until 05h00 on Friday (11 March), thereafter load shedding will move to stage 2 until 09h00 on Monday (14 March).

In a media briefing on Tuesday, the power utility warned that the unpredictability of its units meant that load shedding might have to be extended this week.

It has also spent a significant portion of the last week utilising Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs) which burns through diesel to supplement energy supply.

Schedules 

Eskom has warned in a summer load shedding forecast for 2021/2022, that its system is likely to remain severely constrained for the near future.

For people living in the major metros, load shedding schedules are available here:

For access to other load shedding schedules, Eskom has made them available on loadshedding.eskom.co.za.

Smartphone users can also download the app EskomSePush to receive push notifications when load shedding is implemented, as well as the times the area you are in will be off.

2. Oil over $130 a barrel:

US Brent crude oil traded above $130 a barrel (bbl) as the US administration announced a ban on the import of Russian oil and gas as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine nearly two weeks ago.

Economic planners are now confronting the unthinkable: what if oil prices spike to $200 or even $300/bbl?

The German Dax is down more than 21% since the beginning of 2022 and was in free fall on Monday, given Germany’s heavy reliance on Russian oil and gas. Germany is treading carefully, as any hostile move could result in Russia turning off the gas taps – something Russian military planners seem to have anticipated as a possibility.

On Monday, nickel trading was suspended on the London Metal Exchange after prices breached $100 000 a tonne “in the mother of all short squeezes”, writes Craig Erlam, market analyst at forex company Oanda.

“Further market turbulence in the commodity space could easily follow.”

US President Joe Biden said other countries may not be able to join the US ban, though the UK said it would phase out Russian oil and related products by the end of 2022, while the European Union expects to reduce reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of the year.

The fact that the US adopted a unilateral ban on Russian oil explains why oil prices are only 5% to 6% higher on Monday instead of 15% to 20%, says Erlam.

The current ‘melt up’ in oil prices may not last, as new production will be rushed to market. The US and International Energy Agency said it would release 60 million barrels of oil from emergency stockpiles, which is equivalent to 4% of member countries’ stockpiles.

“Brent was trading at near $138 a barrel on Monday. These additional [US sanctions against Russia] further exacerbate the possibility of crude at or above $150 per barrel which will be felt with the SA consumer. This war has become everyone’s situation to bear, in one way or another.”

3. Asia off-limits for travel:

Most countries have dropped their bans on South African travellers, after imposing harsh restrictions following the discovery of Omicron in late November. But much of Asia remains off-limits.

Less than four months ago, South Africa’s Network for Genomic Surveillance detected a new, highly mutated coronavirus variant. The discovery of Omicron resulted in widespread panic, leading to more than 70 countries imposing restrictions on travellers from South Africa and neighbouring countries.

These travel bans, implemented to stem the importation of Omicron cases, were criticised as being unscientific, ineffective, and discriminatory.

Evidence emerged that the Omicron variant, although discovered by South African scientists, had already been circulating overseas. Within a month of its discovery, Omicron had become the dominant variant in the United States. At the same time, the variant had been detected throughout much of Europe.

And although more infectious than the original virus that causes Covid-19, there’s evidence that Omicron causes less severe disease. The latest data also shows that Omicron, coupled with an uptick in seropositivity and vaccinations, could be responsible for turning the coronavirus away from a global pandemic and towards an endemic disease.

These factors have led to a relaxation of coronavirus-related restrictions, including opening to international travellers, with some countries, like the United Kingdom, dropping pre-arrival testing for fully vaccinated visitors.

Fully vaccinated South African travellers can visit the US and Canada, with proof of a negative Covid-19 test. Almost all countries in Central and South America – except for Guatemala – allow South Africans to enter, although Chile and Peru still require visitors to quarantine on arrival.

Most of Europe has also reopened to South Africans, with the European Union (EU) Commission recently urging all member states to lift any previous restrictions on non-essential travellers.

Some countries, like Portugal and Poland, still only permit travel from South Africa for essential purposes like work, study, family reunification, health, or humanitarian causes.

Australia reopened to fully vaccinated, valid visa holders in December, and recently extended that offer to international tourists. New Zealand, which has been one of the most isolated countries throughout the pandemic, is slowly reopening to international travellers, but will only welcome South African tourists from October.

And while much of the world has reopened to South African travellers over the past three months, countries in Asia remain especially hesitant to welcome visitors.

4. Risks of another Covid wave:

An expert on infectious disease, doctor Richard Lessels, warned South Africa that another wave of Covid-19 could still hit the country.

He stressed that the next wave might be similar to the second or third wave; however, it is still possible that it could make people very sick and lead to oxygen being administered to patients in hospitals.

Lessels said that to have the best protection against a possible next wave, vaccinations for vulnerable people at a high risk of being hospitalised should be South Africa’s priority.

Several experts have weighed in on when the next wave could hit, most pointing to end-April, early May.

5. Cannabis for private purpose:

Dramatic changes to proposed legislation allowing for a commercial recreational cannabis industry in South Africa have been tabled in parliament, enabling the government to push ahead its master plan for the sector announced last August.

The radical amendments to the Cannabis for Private Purposes bill were presented for the first time to parliament’s justice and constitutional development portfolio committee on Tuesday.

The committee hopes to pass the bill in parliament by the end of this term in April, after which it will go to the National Council of Provinces. It will also likely have to go for a second round of public hearings, because the amendments were introduced after the public consultation process had been completed.

In his State of the Nation address last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the government was ready to push ahead with legalising and regulating the commercial cannabis industry, which he said could create 130 000 much-needed jobs.

The masterplan, tabled by the department of agriculture last year, values the industry at a potential R28-billion a year.

The amendments remove the legislative obstacle that the bill had previously thrown up with regard to a commercial cannabis industry, because it had provided limits only on personal possession and cultivation and had criminalised any cannabis trade whatsoever.

The amendments were introduced at the initiative of the department of trade, industry and competition — and in response to input from public hearings on the bill — to allow for the licensed commercial cultivation and sale of cannabis for recreational purposes.

The new clauses in the bill authorise “commercial activities in respect of recreational cannabis”, subject to the enactment of legislation to regulate and license the industry.

This subsequent legislation would regulate the recreational industry under a licensing scheme that would provide for different categories of licences for cultivation, sale and processing of cannabis.

The licensing regime would encourage local economic growth and investment and would give preferential access to rural communities historically involved in the industry, including the Rastafarian community and “other cultural and religious communities which have been prejudiced by past discrimination on the basis of their association with cannabis.”

The cultivation, processing, packaging and sale of recreational cannabis would all be regulated, as well as with the quality, strength and safety of the plant flowers or extracts traded in.

Regulation would also provide for harm-reduction measures and public education about cannabis, together with monitoring the effects of its availability on public health.

The government would also be required to set up a National Cannabis Advisory Council consisting of experts in the field to advise the government on policy around harm reduction.

The bill allows representatives of religious or cultural communities to secure permits to cultivate and sell cannabis.  

In his presentation to the committee, state legal adviser Sarel Robbertse said cannabis should be treated in the same way as alcohol or tobacco and that the legal age for consumption should reflect this and stand at 18.


All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Moneyweb, Business Insider, ENCA, and Mail & Guardian.

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