Flash Briefing: DA says UCT, SANParks must explain runaway fire; Eskom R7bn bill; J&J vaccine; illicit cigarette trade

  • The DA has called for an independent investigation into a fire that broke out on the slopes of Table Mountain and damaged buildings at the University of Cape Town and elsewhere. It said in a statement that, while the hot weather and high winds certainly played a major role in the fast spread of this fire, there should have been more effective contingency measures in place to prevent the rapid spread and both SANParks and UCT need to provide answers in this regard. At least one arrest has been made in connection with the fire.
  • Eskom said it’s urgently seeking new providers of technical support after Oracle’s South African unit withdrew its services over a payment dispute, reports Bloomberg. The state power utility has been in a disagreement with Oracle, which initially claimed Eskom underpaid it by about R7.3bn ($511m), before reducing the amount to R380m. Eskom is only prepared to pay R166m, spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha said by phone Monday.
  • South Africa’s health regulator asked the government to lift the pause on administering Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine provided certain conditions are met. “These conditions include, but are not limited to, strengthened screening and monitoring of participants who are at high risk of a blood clotting disorder,” the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority said in a statement.
  • South Africa halted J&J vaccines after health agencies on Tuesday called for their suspension in the US, says Bloomberg. The J&J shot is a key element to South Africa’s vaccination plan and has already been used to inoculate health workers, with no reported adverse effects. Drug maker Aspen Pharmacare will manufacture the J&J vaccine in South Africa for wider use. The government has been slow to roll out its vaccination programme, and only 292,623 healthcare workers had been inoculated with the J&J doses as of April 17. South Africa, which is the worst-affected country by the Coronavirus pandemic on the continent, lags behind emerging market peers in vaccinations. More people were diagnosed with Covid-19 during the past seven days than any other week since the start of the pandemic — topping 5.2 million globally — with the worst outbreaks accelerating in many countries that are ill-equipped to deal with them. The worrisome trend, just days after the world surpassed 3 million deaths, comes as countries are rolling out vaccinations in an effort to get the virus under control. The data from Johns Hopkins University showing a 12% increase in infections from a week earlier casts doubt on the hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.
  • The unprecedented oil inventory glut that amassed during the coronavirus pandemic is almost gone, underpinning a price recovery that’s rescuing producers but vexing consumers, says Bloomberg. Barely a fifth of the surplus that flooded into the storage tanks of developed economies when oil demand crashed last year remained as of February, according to the International Energy Agency. Since then, the lingering remnants have been whittled away as supplies hoarded at sea plunge and a key depot in South Africa is depleted. The re-balancing comes as OPEC and its allies keep vast swathes of production off-line and a tentative economic recovery rekindles global fuel demand. It’s propping international crude prices near $67 a barrel, a boon for producers yet an increasing concern for motorists and governments wary of inflation. “Commercial oil inventories across the OECD are already back down to their five-year average,” said Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Inc. “What’s left of the surplus is almost entirely concentrated in China, which has been building a permanent petroleum reserve.”
  • Police have seized a massive truckload of illegal cigarettes from Zimbabwe, giving yet more proof of the full-scale price war raging between criminal operators in South Africa’s illicit tobacco trade, says Tax Justice SA. “The huge bust of R13m worth of Remington Gold cigarettes was announced on social media at the weekend by officials who hailed it as a breakthrough against the “sickness” of illicit cigarettes that is infecting our economy. It comes in the same week as a major independent survey reported that illegal cigarettes are now on sale in three out of every four retail outlets in SA’s hotspot provinces.”

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