Here’s what is happening in and affecting South Africa today:
Coronavirus: In South Africa, there have been 2,273 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,963,679. Deaths have reached 89,822 (+25), while recoveries have climbed to 2,849,349, leaving the country with a balance of 24,418 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 25,448,767 (+160,350).
- Vaccine mandates: As the government moves to consult and investigate vaccine mandates amid calls from businesses and other groups that they are implemented as soon as possible, legal opinions are coming around how viable such mandates could be in the eyes of the law. Legal experts believe mandates will ultimately be defendable in court. The consultation process protects the government from arguments of it moving too hastily, while the Consitution itself (s36) makes provision for individual rights to be limited as long as it is reasonable and justifiable. Lawyers want to gain legal clarity on mandates as soon as possible. [News24 – paywall]
- Omicron: Scientists are slowly getting a better picture of the Omicron variant. There are early signs the variant does not cause more severe illness, and data from Gauteng shows that vaccinated individuals are faring a lot better than the unvaccinated – positive news for global vaccination drives. Patients present with flu-like symptoms, dry cough, fever, night sweats and a lot of general body pains and malaise – but doctors say it’s early days still, and information may change. NICD data also points to the virus being more prevalent in young people. Vaccine makers are already working on boosters to combat the variant. [Health24, ENCA 1, 2]
- Fuel hikes: Analysts warn that the latest fuel price hikes taking effect from Wednesday will have a dire impact on consumers. On Monday, energy minister Gwede Mantashe announced that motorists will be forking over an additional 81 cents per litre for petrol this week, taking the price to over R20 a litre. The AA has warned that the price hikes will have a knock-on effect across the supply chain and add inflationary pressure to the economy. Analysts have said that fuel price hikes this year have already pushed many consumers to the brink of their budgets, and the latest may push them over the edge. There have been calls for a full review of fuel prices in South Africa, including reducing taxes. [TimesLive, EWN]
- E-tolls: Following reports that the government has finally decided to scrap e-tolls in Gauteng, transport minister Fikile Mbalula has issued a statement denying any such decision has been made. Mbalula – who has been promising a resolution to the e-toll saga for years – said that Cabinet has not yet made any decision on e-tolls and that the decision isn’t as simple as scrapping or not scrapping the system. He set yet another deadline, saying that the National Treasury will have the final say and present these findings in the 2022 budget speech. [Mbalula]
- Markets: South Africa’s rand firmed on Monday, recovering from last week’s plunge to its lowest since October 2020 on concerns around the discovery of a Covid-19 variant in the country that has been described as the most concerning. Stock markets also recovered after hospitality shares fell sharply on the news a host of countries would bar travel from southern Africa, hitting hopes of a bumper season for a tourism industry hurt badly by the pandemic. On Tuesday, the rand was trading at R16.16/$, R18.27/€ and R21.52/£. [Reuters]