Here’s what is happening in and affecting South Africa today:
Coronavirus: In South Africa, there have been 19,842 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 3,071,064. Deaths have reached 90,038 (+36), while recoveries have climbed to 2,867,966, leaving the country with a balance of 113,060 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 26,781,642 (+142,349).
- Domestic travel: Prospects look good for South Africans who are planning domestic travel this holiday season, with the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) saying that banning provincial travel to try and stem the rising Omicron Covid infections would not make any sense. Committee chairperson Professor Koleka Mlisana said that many South Africans have already been exposed to the virus across all provinces. The variant is everywhere, so banning travel wouldn’t have any effect, Mlisana said. President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to soon address the nation on possible lockdown restrictions and the government’s position on vaccine mandates. 
- Third dose: Scientists and researchers have welcomed SAHPRA’s approval of a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine booster shot, which will be available for anyone over the age of 18 six months after their second dose. New data from Pfizer shows that the booster jab will increase efficacy against the Omicron variant. Researchers said that the next step is to get approval for the mix-and-match Covid treatment, allowing the different vaccines to be used in combination. SAHPRA said that it does not yet have evidence to support this approach, so it is not yet an approved treatment but welcomes any applications where data on this is available. [ENCA]
- Alcohol bans: Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has welcomed the Western Cape High Court’s judgment dismissing a bid to have South Africa’s alcohol bans declared unconstitutional and unlawful. The case was brought by wine group Vinpro, which was seeking a declaratory order permitting provincial authorities to deviate from national instructions to ban things like alcohol. However, the government argued that the bans were part of its toolset to manage the Covid crisis, not addressing the social issue of alcohol abuse. The alcohol industry lost billions of rands in revenue due to the damaging bans. [EWN]
- Raw deal: South African citizens are still getting the short end of the stick when it comes to value for tax money, with only 19% of the R1.9 trillion national and provincial government spending getting a clean audit in the 2020/21 financial year. Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke published her office’s latest report, showing that out of 115 government departments and entities, one state-owned enterprise – the Development Bank of South Africa – and two key departments got a clean audit. Across the books, government spending is littered with ‘diverted resources’, wasteful and fruitless spending, and loose financial controls. All while citizens are robbed of basic service delivery and access to finance. [Daily Maverick]
- Markets: The South African rand extended this week’s gains on Wednesday, as signs that the Omicron coronavirus variant identified locally is causing mainly mild infections supported risk appetite. Financial markets have been highly sensitive to news about Omicron, which South Africa alerted the world to late last month, triggering global alarm and the imposition of travel restrictions. But anecdotal accounts from South African doctors and researchers suggest that it may be causing less severe clinical symptoms than other coronavirus variants. However, they caution that more research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. On Thursday, the rand was at R15.73/$, R17.81/€ and R20.76/£. [Reuters]