Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS WEEKLY DIGEST #16

Covid-19 vaccine funding questioned, more oxygen supply trouble and artists demand more support

Covid-19 vaccine funding questioned, more oxygen supply trouble and artists demand more support

This week, questions were raised but went unanswered about the exact funding of Covid-19 vaccines. Artists have once again demanded Minister of Arts Nathi Mthethwa’s removal after he showed ignorance of their plight in the wake of the pandemic. In the Eastern Cape, a misread WhatsApp by a government official has added to oxygen supply chaos. In KwaZulu-Natal, the government has launched a drive against Covid-19 misinformation. The Western Cape has glimpsed the end of its second wave. And as the week drew to a close, Covid-19 claimed the life of Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu.

Maverick Citizen published a Coronavirus Weekly Digest each Friday. The digest summarises highlights from the previous week’s news about the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu dies of Covid-19 related complications

On Thursday, the Presidency announced that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu had died of Covid-19 related complications. He tested positive for Covid-19 on 11 January and was admitted to hospital after complaining of stomach pains. As Marianne Merten outlines his career and the immense impact he had on South Africa. 

Here, read a tribute penned by Ronnie Kasrils.

Questions raised over funding of vaccine roll-out go unanswered

This week, Treasury suggested in various media interviews that it is considering a number of options to finance the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. The options mentioned are tax increases, reallocating funds or raising the budget deficit. Treasury told Business Maverick that details on this financing will be announced on Budget Day in February. It is estimated that the rollout will cost R20-billion.

As Marianne Merten writes, the question of where exactly the particular rands and cents will be spent remains unanswered. Nonetheless, it has come to light that it is up to the Department of Health to secure and pay for vaccines. Since September 2020, the department requested and was granted two procurement deviations from usual acquisition processes.

The R20-billion was broken down in a presentation to Parliament on 7 January 2021, but two weeks later this was brought into question after the Department of Health Deputy Director-General Anban Pillay said the AstraZeneca doses would be 30% more expensive than originally tabled to Parliament. Merten unpacks this here.

This week, Corruption Watch asked National Treasury just exactly how it would prevent looting in the purchase and rollout of the vaccine programme. Read the response in detail here.

Read more: South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out: What we do know and what we’re still struggling to find out

Covid-19 research and vaccine development get a boost

Meanwhile, the Department of Higher Education has invested more than R68-million into Covid-19 research and vaccine development. In addition, R25-million has been dedicated to the research on Covid-19 variants at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform. The funds have been reprioritised from the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 budget allocations, according to higher education minister Blade Nzimande. Sandisiwe Shoba unpacks the studies.

On 18 January, a panel of nine leading scientists provided an update on South African research on the Covid-19 variant 501Y.V2. Their studies show that the variant travels more easily and much faster than previous variants. However, it is not more deadly. What is not clear yet is how this variant impacts reinfection and vaccines. Read more here.

Business was still bust going into 2021

On Wednesday, Statistics South Africa revealed that the consumer inflation rate averaged 3.3% in 2020 – the lowest in 16 years when it was 1.4%. This average is close to the low end of the South African Reserve Bank’s inflation target. On Thursday, the bank kept interest rates the same.

Major retailers Truworths and The Foschini Group have revealed that they lost billions over the festive season, compared to 2019. As Ray Mahlaka writes, investors expected much worse though and share prices increased.

On the mining front, output fell by 11.6% in November 2020 compared to the previous year. This was consistent across the industry, says Stats SA. As Ed Stoddard writes, this latest data shows that “the recovery in late 2020 was losing steam”.

The tourist accommodation industry saw the same fate. Total income dropped by 65.5% in November 2020 compared with the same month in 2019. This is an improvement from the 95% drop seen in June 2020. However, as Ed Stoddard points out, there was little difference in recovery between October and November 2020 implying that recovery has slowed.

Bureaucratic breakdown comes under the spotlight nationwide

From Pietermaritzburg, to Uitenhage, to Soweto, the collapse of local government offices and services came into focus once again this week. In Pietermaritzburg, beneficiates of the Covid-19 grant told of how they had no choice but to pay r150 for a place in the queue at the Post Office to access their R350 grant.

In Uitenhage, grant recipients were told the SASSA office would serve only 50 people a day. By 1:30PM, GroundUp journalist Thamsanqa Mbovane witnessed how staff members appeared not to be working after serving 50 people. They argued that they could only serve a certain number of people because “it’s level 3 lockdown”.

In Soweto, those queueing outside the Home Affairs Office were irate after witnessing bribery, incompetence and bad attitudes. The office was only offering one of the seven it is supposed to do during level 3 lockdown. Bheki Simelane reports.

Artists demand Nathi Mthethwa’s removal

Over a thousand South African artists have signed a petition for the resignation or replacement of Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture. Nathi Mthethwa. This comes after Mthethwa tweeted that “South African theatre is alive and well”. Artists and art organisations called out his ignorance of the sector’s plight and reignited this long-standing call. He has since apologised for the tweet. The petition’s organisers accepted the apology, but remain resolute in their demand and that the sector needs much more support on the wake of the lockdown and pandemic. Victoria O’Regan unpacks these long-standing issues.

Misread WhatsApp leads to more oxygen confusion in the Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape Department of Health has acknowledged that it incorrectly instructed the provincial treasury to find other medical oxygen manufacturers because of short supply. The acting superintendent-general of the province’s department of health, Dr Sibongile Zungu, had misread a letter posted on a medical oxygen WhatsApp group. The letter was sent by Afrox, which advised their commercial clients that supply could come under strain and they should consider alternative supply sources. Zungu took this as being addressed to the government too. Estelle Ellis unpacks the implications.

Read more: Round two: What South Africa’s provinces are up against in the second wave

The Western Cape looks beyond the second wave

Over the past week, the Western Cape has seen a decline in active Covid-19 cases, new infections, hospitalisations and deaths. The peak of the second wave has been reached, according to provincial health department head Dr Keith Cloete. However, the province is monitoring for any local outbreaks.

Cloete emphasised once again the importance of the mental wellbeing of healthcare workers, reports Suné Payne. Cloete said the province has started an “intentional process of grieving and healing for all healthcare workers, after the significant emotional and mental trauma experience”.

Read more: Covid-19: This second wave is relentless, say paramedics

Read more: Covid-19: ‘He died alone when all he wanted was to hold his wife’s hand’

Read more: ‘We need staff and psychological help’: Photos from inside a Gauteng hospital ward

Lockdown entrenches ‘mafia-style grip’ of gangs

The lockdown’s economic devastation and a collapse of government services has provided gangs with an opportunity to strengthen their “Mafia-like tactics”. In the government’s vacuum, the gangs in Cape Town have stepped in to provide services and therefore tighten their grip on communities. Vincent Cruywagen unpacks the impact of this.

KwaZulu-Natal tackles misinformation

The KwaZulu-Natal government has launched an education and awareness drive to debunk misinformation about Covid-19. Some of the misinformation doing the rounds links Covid-19 and the rollout of the 5G and the vaccines with “demons”. The province has so far hosted a number of webinars dispelling this misinformation, as well as touring areas where 5G towers have been attacked. Des Erasmus spoke to residents about their vaccination views. DM/MC

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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