Flash Briefing: SA virus ‘major threat’ to UK – warnings; Minimum wage increases will cull more jobs – DA; US stocks

  • The South African coronavirus variant is the single biggest threat facing the UK, the Labour leader has said, amid growing calls for the country to tighten its defences against new variants, reports the Guardian. Keir Starmer said it was important to “secure our borders” after concerns were raised that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab may be less effective against the South African variant. The government admitted on Monday that it had still not signed contracts with any hotel chains to provide quarantine for travellers from hotspot countries, including South Africa and Brazil, who will be required to stay in hotels for 10 days upon arrival in the UK. Travel is already barred from most of the countries in question. The Financial Times of London quotes Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, saying “If it is confirmed that the vaccine doesn’t protect against severe disease and death caused by the South African variant, we have a massive problem”. However, Piot stressed that other vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson jab, showed protection against severe disease and death caused by the 501. V2 variant, meaning that there were still tools to work with.
  • South Africa, where a new variant now accounts for the vast bulk of cases, initially announced a pause in its rollout of a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. These Covid-19 developments come as Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize revealed that South Africa recorded 1,376 new Covid-19 cases over the last 24 hours – the lowest daily increase since 16 November 2020, reports Mybroadband.co.za. The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is 1,477,511, the total number of deaths is 46,473 and the total number of recoveries is 1,363,947.
  • The virus that causes Covid-19 most likely jumped from one species to another before entering the human population and is highly unlikely to have leaked from a laboratory, a leader of a World Health Organization investigative team said at a news conference in the Chinese city of Wuhan, reports The Wall Street Journal. In laying out the possibilities for the origin of the pandemic, the WHO team said Tuesday it was also possible that the virus may have been transmitted to humans through imported frozen food, a theory heavily promoted by Beijing. But the team said the most likely scenario was one in which the virus spilled over naturally from an animal into humans, such as from a bat to a small mammal that then infected a person. WHO officials said they would like to see if early coronavirus cases occurred outside China before the Wuhan market outbreak. Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist on the WHO team, said studies suggested there may have been cases in Italy in late November.
  • The Democratic Alliance (DA) has warned that the above-inflation minimum wage increases gazetted yesterday by the Minister of Employment and Labour will lead to further job losses at a time when unemployment is already rampant and rising. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) has been increased by 4.5%. The minimum wages for domestic workers and farm workers have been increased by 23% and 16% respectively. Few sectors will be able to absorb such steep increases at a time of serious economic decline. As it is, the domestic service sector has been particularly hard hit by Covid-19 with many employers struggling to keep on their domestic workers. In the agricultural sector, research has shown that large legislated wage increases cause extensive job losses. A double-digit increase in the minimum wage will in all likelihood lead to increased mechanisation resulting in even greater job losses in the agricultural sector.
  • US stocks ticked down Tuesday, suggesting that the major indexes may pause after closing at record highs. The S&P 500 edged 0.2% lower, after the benchmark gauge posted its eighth all-time closing high of 2021 on Monday. The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 0.1% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3%, or 84 points. Investors said markets are taking a breather following a broad advance in stocks and commodities. The recent rally has been fuelled by expectations of a new dose of stimulus spending in the US, which could add impetus to the economic revival.
  • MTN Group has announced that it has concluded an agreement to sell and fully exit its 20% shareholding in Belgacom International Carrier Services SA (BICS) to Proximus NV/SA. The MTN Group said it intends to use this amount to pay down US dollar debt and for general corporate purposes.

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