Here’s what is happening in and affecting South Africa today:
Coronavirus: Global Covid-19 infections have hit 87.6 million confirmed, with the death toll reaching 1.89 million. In South Africa, there have been 21,832 new cases, taking the total reported to 1,149,591. Deaths have reached 31,368 (a daily increase of 844), while recoveries have climbed to 929,239, leaving the country with a balance of 188,924 active cases. The latest alarming figures, which includes record new cases and record deaths, are as a result of reconciled data from the Eastern Cape from between May and November 2020.
- Tobacco war: British American Tobacco South Africa is opposing government’s latest bid to appeal the High Court ruling against the country’s tobacco ban during lockdown. Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said there is no intention to reintroduce the ban, but sees the matter as a constitutional one, hence the decision to appeal. Batsa, meanwhile, said if leave to appeal is granted, it will double-down on its legal action, and pursue its case that Dlamini-Zuma be held personally accountable for the ban, as well as having the state pay its legal costs. [Mail & Guardian]
- SA variant: Amid global worries over the South African variant of Covid-19 bringing faster and deadlier infection, local medical experts have moved to allay fears, saying that the variant is being studied intensely and there is no evidence yet that cases are more severe. However is it shown to be more transmissible, which threatens to infect more people and overload healthcare facilities. Tests are being done on vaccine effectiveness, and scientists should have a better picture in the next few weeks. [ENCA]
- Load shedding: With load shedding returning – overnight for now – Eskom says that South Africans should expect rolling blackouts to feature ‘for the better part of the year’. Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said that things will likely improve later in the year, after September, but that load shedding will not be completely eliminated. He said the only want to get rid of load shedding is by introducing new capacity, which is part of Eskom’s long-term strategy. [MyBroadband]
- Hospital beds: The Gauteng government has failed to deliver more than half of the hospital beds it promised, as healthcare facilities in the province come under pressure and fill up rapidly. The Gauteng health department said the beds would be delivered by the end of February. It promised over 1,575 beds to meet rising demand, but has so far only delivered 775. Private hospital groups are reporting severe strain on high care facilities across major cities, with pressure mounting on staff. [TimesLive]
- Markets: The rand weakened in Wednesday trade against the dollar, due to speculation about further lockdown restrictions that could see the domestic economy come under further strain as infections continue to mount. Despite this, the rand and other emerging market currencies are still riding a wave of optimism about a Covid-19 vaccine rollout – though doubts linger around local logistics. On Thursday the rand was at R15.05 to the dollar, R18.56 to the euro, and R20.48 to the pound. [XE]