By Verashni Pillay and Aarti Bhana
Hi there and welcome to The Wrap: simple news updates for busy people, brought to you by explain.co.za ??♀
In just a few days you get to taste a little freedom, as full lockdown lifts. At the same time, we rather poetically celebrate Freedom Day in South Africa tomorrow. We bring you news on that and more in this edition. Also: Ramadaan Mubarak to our Muslim community!
EMOJI NEWS INDICATOR
- Covid-19 update: A new chapter ?
- South Africa’s economic stimulus missile ?
- How we respond to bad news ☠️
- News from around the world ?
And your weekly dose of inspiration.
So, let’s dive in:
? For the audio version of this update, go here
? For text, keep scrolling
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1.COVID-19: A NEW CHAPTER ?
Latest numbers: 26 April 2020
? 161 004 tests conducted
? 4 361 confirmed positive
? 1 473 recoveries
? 86 deaths
South Africa’s lockdown levels lower a notch
South Africa, we have some great news for you: You can now eat Chicken Licken again! Yes, as of May 1, all your favourite fast food retailers will reopen their doors to satisfy your cravings. ? But, with the caveat of deliveries only, no takeaways or sit down allowed until Level 2.
This is one of the few changes to restrictions when we enter Level 4 of the lockdown. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that South Africa will enter a new – less strict – phase of the lockdown. (Yes, we’ll still be in lockdown even after April 30.) Ramaphosa said there are five levels of the lockdown, and that the whole thing will be lifted in stages.
Currently, we’re in Level 5 – the most stringent of them all. But we’ll be entering Level 4 on May 1, meaning that:
▪️ 1.5 million people will return to work as some businesses reopen their doors – but under strict conditions – more details will follow in the week
▪️ Working remotely is still encouraged
▪️ A curfew will come into effect – so no movement between 8 pm and 5 am
▪️ Public transport will operate, subject to strict times and capacity
▪️ Retailers can sell winter clothes, blankets, heaters, school stationery and ICT supplies like cellphones and laptops
▪️ Cigarettes are back on the shelves, but not alcohol
▪️ Hot food and takeaways will be open, but only for delivery and between 9 am and 8 pm
▪️ Public gatherings are still not allowed, except funerals
▪️ Travelling between provinces is not allowed, except for exceptional circumstances like funerals
▪️ Schools remain closed
▪️ Gyms, entertainment centres, theatres and concerts are still closed
▪️ We can exercise outdoors again, but again under strict conditions and only alone – more details will follow
▪️ Wearing cloth masks in public is mandatory
▪️ The SANDF will still be out in their numbers monitoring the situation
Over time, the government will relax other restrictions, but some precautions will remain in place. There’s still a long road before we can return to normal (what’s that again?), especially since experts are saying we might only reach our peak infection rate in September. ? This is good news though – as it gives us even more time to prepare – and it’s past the winter flu season.
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma outlined the guidelines on Saturday, and said that if infections begin to increase exponentially, the government can pull the lever and bring in strict regulations again. The current regulations are open for comment, and will be finalised on Thursday, ahead of the lockdown lifting. If you want to comment, you can find the guidelines on the link below, and email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12pm on 27 April.
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE NEW ECONOMY ?
It was a week full of announcements. Before the President declared that lockdown measures will be eased from Friday, he surprised us with a huge economic stimulus package on Tuesday. He announced a social and economic support package of R500 BILLION – which is about 10% of South Africa’s GDP. This was far more than economists expected, given our financial straits, and puts us on a footing with developed countries’ spend. Later in the week, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni upped it to R800 billion, announcing that the South African Reserve Bank will top up the stimulus with an additional R300 billion.
Of course, South Africa doesn’t actually HAVE R500 billion just stashed away somewhere. It plans to reprioritise R130 billion already in the current budget, and intends to RAISE the rest. Ramaphosa said that they have approached the World Bank, the BRICS New Development Bank and the IMF to help us fund the health response to Covid-19. Don’t worry, this isn’t the scary IMF loans of the eighties that ravaged so many developing countries. This is ring-fenced pandemic funding at very low interest rates, with fewer strings attached. We’d be silly not to take it. South Africa is entitled to apply for $4.2 billion from the IMF, according to Mboweni.
The package includes a R20 billion health budget and a R50 billion social security budget. Caregivers get an additional R300 in May, and then an additional R500 each month from June to October, along with other grant top-ups over the next six months. This follows recommendations from experts that instead of food parcels – which were getting stolen in some parts of the country – just use the established grants network to get cash into the poorest households. South Africa has one of the most sophisticated grant systems in the world. This way, communities can spend the money within their areas, stimulating the informal economy too. ?
Besides that, Mboweni outlined other loan measures and amplified Ramaphosa’s call to kickstart a new economy post Covid-19 – which will also include new labour market policies. This in a country where some argue that growth has been strangled by rigid labour laws. Mboweni said that the government must “work quickly to implement structural reforms to get the economy moving. Virus or no virus, the economy has been growing too slowly for too long.”.
If you’re worried about what’s going to happen after we take all this debt and spend all the money, you’re not alone. The Economist’s lead story this week noted that “spending freely now to avoid a deeper slump is the only sensible path”, while cautioning that “governments should prepare for the grim business of balancing budgets later in the decade”. They pointed out gross government debt across the developing world will rise from 105% of GDP to 122%, according to the IMF. SA’s debt to GDP ratio before the pandemic was just over 60%.
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. THE DARK SIDE OF SA’S COVID-19 RESPONSE ☠️
Our government’s response to the pandemic has been lauded – and quite rightly so. But no response is perfect, and there have been several issues that are genuine cause for concern. Top of the list is the reports of brutality by armed forces – even as we acknowledge there are many police and army personnel doing a good job. Other reports say some health workers are not receiving adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Then, there are serious issues such as the rise in gender based violence, as women are locked up at home with their abusers. There is also a very healthy debate raging about when and how to open up the economy, and balance protecting lives with protecting livelihoods.
But there is a damaging tendency to go to extremes in the various debates, as broadcaster Eusebius McKaiser noted in his column in last week’s Mail & Guardian. “We can and should, in my view, broadly support the state’s national lockdown regulations — because they serve a rational, overarching societal purpose — and simultaneously, without being contrarian at every turn, pressure-test the detail of state decisions, against the normative standards of our Constitution.”
Unfortunately, many have used the inevitable failures along the way to lambast the entirety of South Africa’s response, and fall into the well-worn groove of panic and/or fatalism about the country’s future. We owe it to ourselves and each other to learn to respond with balance – supporting what is right, and calling out what is wrong, without throwing the baby out with the bath water.
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 4. TRUMP’S VERBAL DIARRHOEA AND OTHER NEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD ?
We’ll start with a warning: Please do not inject any form of disinfectant into your bloodstream. It will not cure you or protect you from Covid-19. US President Donald Trump made these claims earlier this week and soon backtracked on it (like always) after medical experts, other politicians and even manufacturers said it’s not the right thing to do. Trump said he was being ‘sarcastic’ when he made the comment. It was a new low. ??♀️
Other international news:
▪️ Is Kim Jong Un okay? The Supreme Leader of North Korea (actual title) hasn’t been seen for two weeks and missed a crucial ceremony, prompting the unforgettable hashtag #KIMJONGUNDEAD to trend on social media for days. No, it’s not, as you may imagine at first glance, a call for the most epic zombie movie of all time. ?
▪️ The New York Times (NYT) is tracking the pandemic curves of various countries. According to the latest stats, new cases are decreasing in Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and other countries among the first to peak. The rate of new infections are increasing in Russia, Brazil, India and notably, Sweden. The Nordic country has so far stood out for its relaxed approach to fighting Covid-19, as reported by Bloomberg, with the Swedish government relying on citizens to act sensibly, rather than imposing new laws or a full lockdown.
▪️ These days, politics seem to boil down into screaming matches between liberals and conservatives. We’re seeing it in the US and sometimes in SA. Australia and New Zealand are bucking this trend. Australia’s conservative Scott Morris and New Zealand’s darling of the left, Jacinda Ardern, are working together in tackling the pandemic in their neighbouring countries with great success. The NYT calls it “throwback democracy — in which partisanship recedes, experts lead, and quiet coordination matters more than firing up the base.” More of this across the world please!
TB vaccine trial kicks off in the Western Cape ?
There’s been a lot of hype around a 100-year old vaccine commonly used against tuberculosis (TB) and other respiratory tract infections, called BCG.
Preliminary studies have shown that countries with universal BCG vaccination policies, like South Africa, have seen a huge reduction in Covid-19 respiratory infections, and up to six times fewer deaths. South Africa has vaccinated newborns with BCG since the 1970s, so we’re possibly at an advantage.
However, the hype around the BCG vaccine, and the studies themselves, have been open to criticism. One expert noted that the number of differing factors across the countries used in the study make comparison difficult, if not impossible, and that the data used is outdated. He called for more trials before we know anything for sure – so the fact that we’re doing just that in SA is great. ??
A Cape Town clinical research centre will begin a trial to test whether the BCG vaccine can help reduce the probability of Covid-19 infection and severe symptoms. TASK, as the centre is known, is “first out of the blocks for this kind of study”. The study leader said:
“We can do this kind of research quicker than anyone else, because we have all the systems and protocols in place from our TB research, where we are trailblazers.” The Netherlands and Australia will also start carrying out similar trials.
The experts are confident, and say the study could start showing its first positive outcomes in July. It’s a world class move from SA.
? Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize will brief committees this week on the work government departments are doing to combat the spread of Covid-19.
? As we enter the final few days of full lockdown, Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel and Minister of Traditional Affairs and Cooperative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will provide more details on Level 4 lockdown regulations – and hopefully answer all those burning questions on exactly what type of exercise is allowed.
? Plans to liquidate SAA are on hold, for now.
That’s it from us at The Wrap, a product of https://www.explain.co.za/ – simple news summaries for busy people. ??♀
Keep the faith. Just a few more days and you can leave your home again without worrying about being arrested.
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Till next time, goodbye from Verashni, Nickolaus and Aarti ✌?