Flash Briefing: Health ministry contracts scandal: Mkhize on ‘special leave’; Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug excites investors

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  • South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize has been placed on special leave. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office issued a statement saying: “This period of special leave will enable the Minister to attend to allegations and investigations concerning contracts between the Department of Health and a service provider, Digital Vibes.’” The Special Investigating Unit has been called in to probe allegations of corruption. Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane will serve as Acting Minister of Health until further notice.
  • Covid-19 sequencing in Singapore has underscored the highly infectious nature of India’s variant also known as delta, says Bloomberg. Singapore is one of the only places in the world to sequence all its Covid-19 cases and its data provides the most thorough glimpse yet of how the delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, spreads more rapidly. The strain has been identified in more than 60 countries over the past six months since its discovery in India, and concerns are growing that it may extend the pandemic in some places. A spike in infections in the UK, fuelled by the variant, has prompted Britain to reconsider plans for a total reopening later this month, despite a large vaccine uptake among its population. Delta has also been linked to unusual symptoms like hearing loss and blood clots leading to gangrene, suggesting its impact may be more severe than other strains. In England and Scotland, early evidence suggests it carries a higher risk of hospitalisation.
  • Johannesburg-listed Life Healthcare jumped in value after the US Food and Drugs Administration approved Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug, reports Bloomberg. The FDA approval makes Biogen the first new Alzheimer’s drug in almost 20 years. Life Healthcare rose as much as 18% to the highest level since April 2019. BizNews partner The Wall Street Journal says the approval of the therapy, which has the molecular name aducanumab and will be sold as Aduhelm, marked a watershed in Alzheimer’s drug research after billions of dollars in investment
  • South Africa’s economy is stuck in its longest downward cycle since World War II, says Bloomberg. Policy paralysis and weak business sentiment weigh on fixed investment spending, with private-sector companies wary to commit large sums of money to domestic projects. Gross domestic product grew an annualised 4.6% in the three months through March from the previous quarter, But, Statistics South Africa says: However, GDP contracted 3.2% year-on-year in the period, the fourth straight quarter of decline and a bigger drop than was projected, which means output is still down from a year ago, when the pandemic started spreading.