Here’s what is happening in and affecting South Africa today:
Coronavirus: Global Covid-19 infections have hit 113.1 million confirmed, with the death toll reaching 2.5 million. In South Africa, there have been 1,862 new cases, taking the total reported to 1,507,448. Deaths have reached 49,523 (a daily increase of 110), while recoveries have climbed to 1,422,622, leaving the country with a balance of 35,303 active cases.
- Budget reaction: The response to National Treasury’s 2021 budget has been broadly positive, with analysts praising the finance minister for sticking to his guns on cutting spending, while dropping plans to raise more taxes. However, it has not been without controversy, particularly from the alcohol and tobacco industries, which have been hard-hit by lockdown and government bans. They came off as some of the biggest losers in the budget. [TimesLive 1, 2]
- Effective vaccine: New data on the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine shows that it is highly effective in severe cases of Covid-19, as well as in acting against variants of the virus. In large clinical trials, the J&J vaccine’s efficacy against severe disease was 85.9% in the United States, 81.7% in South Africa, and 87.6% in Brazil. In moderate cases, the efficacy dropped to around 66%. The tests were being done while variants were predominant among subjects. [ENCA]
- E-tolls: The controversial e-tolling system was not part of the budget – and Gauteng motorists are still waiting on promises from the transport department for an outcome to the issue. Despite not getting a mention, National Treasury made it clear that its position is that the user-pays principle needs to be implemented if road agency Sanral is to turn its financial problems around. It said that the agency is struggling to access capital markets and finance maintenance on roads. [Moneyweb]
- Irregular: The Special Investigative Unit says it has received a formal complaint about contracts in place between the Department of Health and a small communications company called Digital Vibes, which have ties to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. Reports this week found that two people close to the minister were paid consultants of the company, which scored contracts worth R82 million. The company has no website and lists a residential address as its offices, and it is not clear what work they are doing for government. 
- Markets: The rand remained steady in the overnight session, as the dovish US Fed added pressure to the dollar while minimising inflation fears. The Fed’s stance boosted EM currencies, with the rand reaching a 14-month high of R14.38 to the dollar during trade yesterday. It’s rather busy on the data side today, with local PPI due for release, followed by US durable goods orders, jobless claims and GDP numbers. The rand trading at R14.52 to the dollar, R17.66 to the euro and R20.54 to the pound. [Citadel Global]