Flash Briefing: SA’s Covid-19 crisis is out of control, making world headlines; Rupert; Capitec; Tesla

  • South Africa’s delayed Covid-19 vaccination programme means a third wave of the virus in three to four months. That’s according to vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi of the University of the Witwatersrand. ‘Even after this second resurgence dies down we will get another one, and vaccine deployment will be too late for high-risk groups,’ he told The Sunday Times. And, in a hard-hitting opinion piece for The Conversation, Professor Madhi said that the government has failed South Africa. The elephant in the room, he says is that the government has set a target of immunising two-thirds of the population but hasn’t as yet secured the 80m doses this would require.
  • Officially, 40,574 South Africans have died of Covid-19, but excess deaths since infections started surging in May are close to 84,000, by far the highest on the continent, notes BizNews partner The Wall Street Journal. This large gap between the number of known Covid-19 deaths and the actual toll of the virus means undertakers are very busy. The second wave of infections caught many South African funeral operators by surprise, says the US media outlet (available in full on BizNews Premium). Some have run out of refrigerated storage space to keep bodies. Many struggled to source coffins, as manufacturers shut down over the holidays, says The Wall Street Journal. And increasingly, undertakers are testing positive and dying from the virus. It quotes Lawrence Konyana, the vice president of the National Funeral Directors Association, saying that the union is still compiling the total number of undertakers who have contracted Covid-19 and died, with many parlours too busy to respond to requests. “We’re starting to bury our own,” he said. Read the full international assessment of how South Africa is handing the pandemic on BizNews Premium.
  • The US is nearing another milestone in the yearlong struggle against Covid-19 as total infections approach 25 million, or about 8% of the population, reports Bloomberg
  • The UK’s health minister warned that coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease, such as those found in South Africa and Brazil, and that stricter border controls are therefore justified, says Bloomberg.  “We don’t know the degree of that,” Matt Hancock said in an interview on Sky News on Sunday, commenting on the extent of any potential reduced efficacy of the vaccines. “In the meantime, we’ve got to have a precautionary principle that says let’s not bring these new variants back to the UK.” The warning came as the UK reported it had vaccinated more than 5 million people, including three-quarters of those over 80. Britain has already banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries, plus all of South America. The UK is grappling with the highest death toll in Europe from Covid-19 and trying to recover from its deepest recession in more than 300 years.
  • South African billionaire Johann Rupert, also a taxpayer in Switzerland, has strenuously denied that he has jumped the Covid-19 vaccination queue. He says his physician arranged a jab for him as one of 12 test patients in December before Switzerland’s vaccination programme started in January, according to Bloomberg. Rupert was responding to international media reports on the matter.
  • Johannesburg-listed Capitec is to refund thousands of its clients as part of its Covid-19 relief plan. An estimated 80,000 will share R160m, according to weekend reports.
  • Tech giants Microsoft, Apple and Tesla will be among the companies headlining a busy earnings week, shedding more light on how businesses performed at the end of 2020 as Covid-19 cases rose. Overall, more than a fifth of the S&P 500 and a third of the Dow Jones Industrial Average are expected to provide their quarterly updates starting Monday, according to FactSet. The Wall Street Journal says that, in addition to tech, the schedule includes some of the biggest names in manufacturing, restaurants and telecommunications. “Many tech companies have seen their sales jump during the coronavirus pandemic, as people leaned more on their products and services while working, schooling and entertaining from home,” the newspaper notes.

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