Here’s what is happening in and affecting South Africa today:
Coronavirus: In South Africa, there have been 11,535 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,988,148. Deaths have reached 89,915 (+44), while recoveries have climbed to 2,850,905, leaving the country with a balance of 47,328 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 26,109,436 (+327,177).
- Thwarted: Not only have travel bans against South Africa caused untold destruction to the local tourism industry, they have also thwarted scientists’ efforts in better understanding and researching the Omicron variant. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases says that it has struggled to get reagents and other research-related specimens into the country, as most flights are banned. In other African countries, the bans have affected vaccine deliveries, though this is now improving. Local researchers say the Omicron variant shows signs of being more transmissible, even against those previously infected by the Delta, Beta or Alpha variants, but with milder symptoms. [TimesLive]
- Money owed: The Emalahleni municipality in Mpumalanga owes Eskom over R5 billion. It has handed the details of some 30 defaulting customers over to debt collectors in a bid to get some of this money back. Authorities in the district say that high levels of unemployment have contributed to the growing trend of non-payment, but it’s residents, businesses and even some government departments that are at fault. However, the municipality is not alone, as many others also owe Eskom billions. The struggling power utility is constantly engaging with defaulters and working out payment plans to recover losses. [News24]
- Rage no more: Despite saying they had no choice but to continue with the festival, the organisers of the Plettenburg Bay Rage have pulled the plug on the mass gathering. The festival was scheduled to start on Friday, but the organisers decided to cancel due to the alarming number of positive Covid cases being reported. Attendees were expected to get and present a PCR test to gain entry to the festival, but so many tested positive for Covid that only a small fraction would ultimately have been able to go. Ballito Rage was also cancelled just as it started after 36 attendees tested positive for Covid-19. [ENCA]
- NPA blow: Head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s investigative unit, Hermione Cronje, has resigned, with insiders and experts pointing to frustrations over a lack of support, resources and political will to bring to book high profile implicated persons. The NPA is facing mounting pressure over its lack of prosecutions related to high profile cases, particularly around state capture. Cronje’s investigative unit was set up as a ‘new Scorpions’ in 2019 and made an early strike against Gupta-linked companies. However, experts say that the unit was not well supported and operated as a mid-sized law firm, expected to take on multi-billion rand companies. [Daily Maverick]
- Markets: The rand bounced back on Thursday against a weaker dollar after again breaching the R16.00 mark in the previous session as the Omicron coronavirus variant established itself as the dominant strain in South Africa. Data from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases showed on Wednesday that 74% of all the virus genomes it had sequenced last month had been of the new variant, as new cases doubled from Tuesday. The data also showed that the Omicron variant appeared to get around some immunity, but vaccines should still offer protection against severe disease. On Friday, the rand was trading at R15.96/$, R18.04/€ and R21.21/£. [Reuters]