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No news is good news? Not quite

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

Can you believe it’s been just over a week in lockdown? While the news may seem slow, there were some important developments below. Here’s the week’s top stories.

Can you believe it’s been just over a week in lockdown? While the news may seem slow, there were some important developments below. Here’s the week’s top stories.

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EMOJI NEWS INDICATOR

  1. SA’s Covid-19 numbers are weirdly down ?
  2. Alcohol and cigarette ban: the raging debate ?
  3. Will our crashing economy finally force Ramaphosa’s hand? ?

And your weekly dose of inspiration?

So, let’s dive in!

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. COVID-19: IS THIS THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM? ?

Latest numbers: 5 April 2020

?53 937 tests conducted
?1 585 confirmed positive
?45 recoveries
?9 deaths

We kick off with a surprise of sorts: South Africa’s numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases are growing far more slowly than expected. At this point, the government and other experts expected the number of cases to be over 4 000 – not less than half that amount, which is where we’re at now.

It may seem that the number of confirmed cases have been declining since the lockdown came into effect. But don’t be fooled… ☝?

The decline is not directly related to the lockdown. In fact, it will take between two and three weeks for us to actually see the effects of the lockdown.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize this week even suggested this might be the calm before the storm.

There are two possible reasons the numbers are low.

▪️ The effects of the early ban on social gatherings and travelling is starting to show.
▪️ There’s a slowdown in testing.

Zweli Mkhize, a realist, is leaning more towards the latter. He knows South Africa needs to do more testing to better know the extent of the problem. Authorities had bet on a lot more hospitalisations by now based on their projections. Now they’re in limbo. They need to get a better idea of what our numbers are doing so they can prepare enough hospital beds and ventilators.

In some ways, this is a good problem to have – especially when you look at how thousands have died in the US partly because of hospital incapacity. It gives us more time to prepare.

So, what are our health authorities doing? Here are some of the interventions:

▪️ Ramping up testing with new mobile testing units, with a priority on townships and rural areas. The numbers show more middle-class citizens are getting tests done because they can afford it.

▪️ Actively reaching out to those who are sick but not getting help, with a proactive door to door approach instead of just waiting for them to come into health facilities.

▪️ Developing a mobile tracking software to keep an eye on people infected with Covid-19, in partnership with Telkom and Samsung.

▪️ Repurposing TB-testing machines to get results in 45 minutes instead of 48 hours. And this is South Africa’s sweet spot in the fight against Corona – the country has the HIGHEST number of these GeneXpert machines in the world, given our history with Tuberculosis and the fight against HIV.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BURNING QUESTION ON EVERYONE’S LIPS ?

The government announced that no cigarettes and alcohol would be available during lockdown and it’s left drinkers, smokers and libertarians in a huff. ?

It is a touchy subject but there are valid points to both sides of the debate.

Pros

?Stops people from making unnecessary trips to shops and spreading the virus
?Covid-19 affects the lungs and smoking will complicate the illness further
?Similarly, alcohol consumption lowers overall health and immunity
?And there are concerns about a rise in domestic violence during the lockdown being spurred by alcohol

Cons

?Smokers and drinkers go cold turkey and go to dangerous lengths, including ingesting dangerous substances. This at a time when we don’t need ANY more people in our hospitals
?Illegal tobacco trade, already a huge problem for SA, may explode. Our revenue service currently loses billions annually to these tax-evading sellers
?And lastly… SA is going to lose money on this! Besides illegal tobacco, the loss in tax revenue from alcohol and cigarettes – which are taxed higher than other goods – will be substantial. One tobacco industry body puts the tax revenue on cigarettes alone at R1 billion

Meanwhile, British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) says SA has 11 MILLION smokers. That’s a lot of people jonesing for a puff while also stressed out under lockdown.

Batsa recommends that the government allow smokers to buy cigarettes as part of their essential goods. In the Western Cape, this is already the case. The DA-led government lifted the ban on cigarette sales, but said it can only be purchased with other essential goods, not alone. But once there’s more clarity on regulations, this might change.

Of course, the Western Cape’s decision has ruffled feathers – not uncommon being the only province in SA that is governed by the opposition DA and not the ruling ANC. Police Minister Bheki Cele in typical bolshy fashion says he would crack down on any stores selling ciggies in the Western Cape. ??‍✈️

But if you’re hoping for a change of heart on buying alcohol or smokes, don’t hold your breath (haha). Government insists it will not reverse the ban.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. WE’VE BEEN DOWNGRADED… AGAIN ?

We’re not talking about Moody’s. That happened last week as we’ve previously explained over here:
https://www.explain.co.za/2020/03/26/credit-rating-downgrades/

This time, Fitch Rating Agency – who already had us at junk status – downgraded us further into junk territory. They say South Africa lacks a ‘clear path towards’ stabilising its debt situation, which is certainly going to be exacerbated by Covid-19. Talk about kicking someone when they are down! ?

The rand’s response to the downgrade was another spanner in the works. The currency declined to R19 to the dollar following the announcement. If you compare that to the R14-something we were at the start of the year – just four months ago – you’ll realise it’s a steep decline of almost 30%!

BUT! ☝?

This could be the final push we need for South Africa’s economy. Before this crisis and its economic fall-out, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni penned some stringent plans to get the economy on track – like cutting the public sector wage bill. Trade unions were obviously not impressed. The ideas were not actioned because Mboweni was waiting for the go-ahead from Ramaphosa, who was trying to make everyone happy, as usual. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Traditional opponents to reform like SA’s unions don’t have much of a leg to stand on. In a conference call last week, Mboweni said Ramaphosa gave him the go-ahead to implement these tough economic reforms. In Mboweni’s usual candid fashion, he told reporters he replied: Hallelujah! ??

Well… the latest assessment by Fitch perhaps gave Mboweni his second hallelujah moment – more ammunition to do the right thing with his reform rifle.

INSPIRATION ?

If you’re worried about how government will be abusing its new power to access your private information:

▪️ You should be
▪️ But not if you’re South Africa

In another world-class move, South Africa’s justice minister Ronald Lamola appointed former Constitutional Court judge Kate O’Regan to monitor the state’s use of citizens’ personal data for Covid-19 tracing. The health department MUST report to her weekly. ??‍⚖️

This is yet another example of our country doing us proud in how they’re handling all this. In contrast, countries like Hungary have seen their leaders use this crisis to grab more power and take away civil liberties. Hungary’s ruling party just forced through a bill that gives its prime minister dictator-like power: the right to rule by decree INDEFINITELY.

So whatever Victor Orban says goes- literally!

Meanwhile, over in the United States, US President Donald Trump managed to squash the little oversight the Democratic party was trying to put in place: an inspector general to oversee the $500 billion slush fund for large corporations.

Things are pretty bad in many other countries, guys. Brazil’s president is in SUCH denial about the virus that the country’s DRUG GANGS have had to enact curfews to help communities contain the virus’s spread. You know things are bad when criminals have to step in to do government’s job. ?

South Africa’s response meanwhile has drawn praise from the World Health Organisation’s director-general himself, who commended Ramaphosa’s leadership in a series of tweets this week. Bill Gates joined the chorus, also commending the country’s response and even the BBC wrote a great piece acknowledging our problems, while still giving us the thumbs up. ?

Read it here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-52125713

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We can still expect to see a rise in Covid-19 numbers in South Africa, as we explained – possibly a high number too. Globally, some countries are managing to slow the virus’s growth but the majority of countries have not.There are already over 1 million cases globally, with over 60 000 deaths. We’ll bring you more on this later in the week.

Plus, the explain.co.za team is working on an awesome special report looking at how SA compares to the rest of the world.

Keep your eyes peeled. ?

That’s it from us at The Wrap, a product of https://www.explain.co.za/ – simple news summaries for busy people??‍♀

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Studies across the world are showing audiences are turning to trusted sources of news in this time. The explain.co.za team read A TON of the best reports out there- locally and abroad: From the New York Times, to The Guardian, and SA’s top news publications, and then picks the best and summarises it for you!

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Till next time, goodbye. ✌?

By Aarti Bhana and Verashni Pillay