Flash Briefing: Covid-19 vaccine blow for SA; cryptocurrencies climb; big week for rand, will Moody’s downgrade SA?

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  • South Africa said a delivery of 1.1 million Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines has been delayed pending further safety checks, the latest blow to the country’s stop-start inoculation program, reports Bloomberg. The government ordered 31 million of J&J’s single-dose shots and planned to begin issuing them to people over the age of 60 starting May 17. The doses are ready to be issued by Durban-based drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare, which has a deal with J&J to complete the final stage of production, but they won’t now be delivered by early this week as previously expected. Instead, a protracted safety verification process has to be undertaken in conjunction with international regulatory agencies, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa has already given 318,670 health-care workers the J&J shot as part of a study that enabled it to bypass normal licensing procedures. That program, which aims at inoculating 500,000 people, was paused for two weeks last month amid concern that the shot may lead to blood clots, but it won’t be affected by the latest holdup because those doses weren’t produced at Aspen’s plant.
  • The government’s plans to issue AstraZeneca’s vaccines were shelved in February after a small study showed they had little effect on mild infections caused by a variant of the virus first identified in South Africa. Besides the J&J shots, the government has also ordered about 30 million vaccines from Pfizer, with the first 325,260 doses arriving on Sunday night and a total of 4.5 million expected by the end of next month. More than 1.58 million Covid-19 cases have been detected in the country and over 54,000 of those diagnosed with the disease have died.
  • The busiest border crossing in southern Africa will experience six weeks of significant delays as an upgrade begins. The Beitbridge crossing straddles South Africa and Zimbabwe and is an important access point for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The border point has been closed to non-commercial traffic since January to stop the spread of the coronavirus. There will be “significant congestion and delays” for the next six weeks due to construction work, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority said Sunday in a statement. North-bound traffic will be most affected. On average about 25,000 people pass through Beitbridge daily, according to Zimbabwean officials. Lenders including Standard Bank and FirstRand provided $130m of loans for the upgrade.
  • The South African rand faces a potentially big week with a US employment report and Moody’s country rating review expected on Friday. TreasuryONE currency strategist Andre Cilliers says Moody’s is unlikely to downgrade South Africa, deeper into sub-investment grade. You can listen to the full interview with Andre Cilliers on BizNews Radio, which is available on all the major podcast channels.
  • Cryptocurrencies were broadly higher on Monday. Bitcoin climbed above $58,000, while Ether jumped 6% to $3,151 as of 8:17am in New York, says Bloomberg. “Ethereum is rising and not much seems to be in its way,” Edward Moya, a senior market analyst at Oanda Corp., wrote in a note Friday, adding that other tokens were also seeing “fresh interest.”  BizNews Premium partner The Wall Street Journal says the NFT craze has put Ethereum – the blockchain-based computer network that backs it – on the map again. NFTs are bitcoin-like tokens, with a twist: Only one at a time is created and they aren’t interchangeable, as currency tokens are. The NFT is connected to a digital work of art or other real-world item and sold as a unique digital property. Since the launch of the National Basketball Association’s “Top Shot” collectibles six months ago, NFTs have become a cultural phenomenon. The band Kings of Leon sold NFTs tied to an album release. Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey auctioned an NFT of his first-ever tweet. Digital artist Beeple sold an NFT artwork at Christie’s for a record $69m.

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