Covid-19 in SA: the good, the bad and the unknown

Hi there and welcome to Verationality: simple news updates for busy people, brought to you by https://www.explain.co.za/ ??‍♀

We’re living in extraordinary times, with much of the world under lockdown from a global pandemic. We bring you the news you really need to know, plus the rays of light.



  1. Covid-19 update: the good, the bad and the unknown ?
  2. Junk status is… a relief? ?
  3. One of SA’s biggest retailers may not make it through Covid-19 ?
  4. Malaria tablets are not the cure for Covid-19, but we’re going to try them anyway ?

And your weekly dose of inspiration.

So, let’s dive in:


? _For the audio version of this update, click below.

? For text, keep scrolling



Latest numbers: 29 March 2020

?31 963 tests conducted
?1 187 confirmed positive
?31 recoveries
?1 death

1187 is still a low number compared to the tens and even hundreds of thousands we were told we could expect. That’s because there’s been a backlog in processing tests as workload increases, especially from some private laboratories. Plus there’s the fact that the data we see today is historical. But ramping up testing facilities will bring more cases to light, hopefully.

a. SA is getting ahead of the curve

We are a vulnerable country, but one that has acted fast, and for that, we can be grateful. Our lockdown timing, growth in testing, and political attitude puts us ahead of developed countries with far more resources. SA is currently conducting 3 500 tests a day but there’s an ambitious plan to roll out mobile testing laboratories and increase testing to a whopping 30 000 a day by mid-April. Look out for our video later this week explaining this in more detail. ?

b. Our first death

It was going to happen sooner or later. The country’s first Covid-19 related death – a 48-year-old woman from the Western Cape – was announced on Friday. It was a dark day for the country – we were also downgraded by Moody’s. More on that later. PS. You may have heard there were two deaths, but it was later confirmed as one.

c. Getting ahead of the shortages

Countries across the world are scrambling to obtain crucial medical supplies. Italy’s horror stories of doctors facing the choice of who gets to live is a possible look into the future for us if we don’t get enough ventilators. That’s because SA could reach its ‘high-risk’ period in TEN days – our hospitals will get flooded. Thankfully our authorities are alive to the danger and making plans. This includes working with manufacturers to produce ventilators locally by repurposing existing equipment. SA has also secured commitments for assistance from China, Singapore, South Korea and Cuba. The Chinese military donated 2 000 specialised goggles and 3 000 face masks to our army.

d. PSA: forget about your flu shot this year

South Africa received a very limited stock of flu vaccines this year – because they were pre-ordered before Covid-19. Therefore, only health workers will have access to these vaccines because they cannot afford to get sick during this time. Already 13 health workers tested positive for Covid-19. So ordinary citizens have been asked to forego their shot this year.

e. The crisis is forcing all the rich guys to share their money!

Patrice Motsepe has pledged R1 billion in the fight against Covid-19 in SA, matching the donations of two of the country’s other billionaire families: Rupert and Oppenheimer. This brings the Solidarity Fund to over R3 billion. Most heartening though is the steady trickle of smaller amounts coming in from ordinary South Africans, according to the fund’s chairperson. Now that’s Ubuntu. ?

f. Handwringing in the suburbs

If you’re not on social media too much you would have missed the outrage circulating about a group of elderly white people teaching black helpers how to wash their hands. The cringe-inducing video shows black staff lined up on the common lawns of a suburban complex and told to sing Shosholoza while washing their hands. The white residents show them how to do it in a school marmish tone.

Our tip: while the intention to show someone how to wash their hands is good, this is not how it should be done. Of all people, we would expect our housekeepers and cleaners to know about cleanliness – they have been cleaning your home for years, ma’am. Rather focus on asking where they do need help – even if it’s a simple thing like sending a portion of their salary as an e-wallet to family for them, as they can’t go out during the lockdown.?


Talk about kicking us while we’re down. As we noted last week, South Africa was facing a final downgrade decision to junk status. It would have been the biggest news of the week before the virus, but now it’s been subsumed in the general concern about our economy. ?

The decision is largely due to the lost decade under Jacob Zuma, plus his allies who continue to hold up reform. Here’s a link if you missed our video explainer on this:

But one economist, Mike Schussler, says the downgrade may possibly be… ‘a good thing’?! With uncertainty about our investment-grade out of the way, our bond market might actually improve, he told Financial Mail.

Quick explainer: Bonds are issued by governments around the world to investors in exchange for a loan. An investor gets regular cash payouts while they hold the bond, and can cash it in later.

So why are people even interested in our bonds if we’re at junk status??

Basically: higher risk means higher returns. Even when bonds are junk, some investors who buy riskier bonds for the higher returns and in this league, SA is at the top of the junk status pile. Knowing for SURE we are junk status instead of the weird limbo we were in for ages, gives investors confidence to go ahead and buy. When we asked him to explain a bit more, Schussler said it removes the uncertainty. People will see that after the downgrade, it’s not the end of the world.

So, the downgrade isn’t great, but compared to everything else the economy is experiencing at the hands of the virus – it’s MINIMAL.


The CEO of Edcon, Grant Pattison broke down in a video conference after admitting that the retailer only had enough liquidity to pay salaries, not its suppliers.

The company expects to lose R800 million in turnover during the 21-day lockdown. Edcon owns stores like Edgars and Jet and these are non-essential services, so its business, like many others, is bound to suffer during this period.

But the lockdown, and even the virus, are by no means the only reason for its financial mess. Edcon has been in this position for some time now after a private equity deal, dating all the way back to 2007 created a huge debt burden for the company. (The deal was with Boston-based Bain Capital Private Equity. They’re the same guys who had to apologise for helping former Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane screw up the SA revenue service during the state capture years). ?

Edcon has 30 000 employees, a supply chain that includes 750 companies and floor space that accounts for a 10th of the occupancy in the country’s biggest shopping malls, Bloomberg reported in 2019. A potential collapse could exacerbate an unemployment crisis and cause income from commercial property rentals to slide.

This forced SA institutions to try to help Edcon.

Edcon received a R2.7 billion lifeline from the Public Investment Corporation last year, plus help from other lenders. Even some of its landlords extended grace to keep the business going.

Over the past two years, Edcon announced plans to restructure its business to save it from collapse. In 2018 it had to close the doors of flagship chains like Red Square cosmetics and Boardmans homeware. And most recently, it had to sell its CNA chain.

Now, it looks like all this may not be enough, and the lockdown may be the final nail in its coffin. Will Edcon pull through? ?


We’re going to say this first – no, it is not a cure for Coronavirus. Remember, there is no cure for Covid-19 yet.

All patients who have the virus can only treat the symptoms – like a cough and fever. But the tablet won’t kill the virus.

Chloroquine, which is typically used for the prevention and treatment of malaria, is, however, being tested as a possible treatment for severe cases of the virus.

This is after a small and inconclusive study showed it MIGHT help patients with severe symptoms. The results, while contested, have prompted some medical professionals to at least try it out. ?‍♀️

South Africa’s health department is adding this possible measure to our arsenal. A privately-owned pharmaceutical company in Johannesburg donated about 50 000 boxes of chloroquine tablets to the department – as it expects the number of cases to increase. But it will only use the medication on serious cases.

This is not to be confused with the US’s Donald Trump obsession with the medication as an answer to Covid-19. ?‍♀️ Following his comments, a man took a nonmedical form of it used in fish tanks and died. Unsupervised use of the medication is also dangerous for people with liver and kidney issues.

So if you receive a message that claims chloroquine is the cure, send them this message!


Sports news is at a standstill with so many events on hold thanks to the virus. But one update from the world of sports proves that racial transformation and “merit” are not mutually exclusive – a long-contested area in South African sport and rugby especially. The Springboks’ rugby world cup win last year under Captain Siya Kolisi and his diverse team was proof enough. But this week we heard provincial teams are now reaping the benefits of years of upliftment programmes. “We’re starting to reap the rewards of the programmes we’ve implemented. You can see that the players are now coming through the system naturally,” SA Rugby President Mark Alexander said in an interview. The Durban Sharks is one of the most transformed teams in Super Rugby this year, averaging 9.7 players of colour in their 23-man squads. They’re also the team at the top the overall standings at the moment with six wins from seven matches. Here’s to diversity! ✊?✊?✊?

Week ahead

A lockdown, is a lockdown, is a lockdown so there isn’t much happening in the week ahead. ?

But you can expect to see an increase in the number of cases and maybe even more deaths.
As we explained, South Africa’s ‘high-risk’ period is just ten days away. We’re in for a spike in numbers, before we start seeing the positive effects of the lockdown.

That’s it from us at #Verationality, a product of https://www.explain.co.za/ – simple news summaries for busy people. ??‍♀ We hope you’re coping in lockdown – thank goodness for technology right? It’s been a torrid time so we may send you another midweek update if it’s necessary.


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Till next time, goodbye. ✌?

By Verashni Pillay and Aarti Bhana