DA to fight ANC in court over Covid-19 rules; nearly all Covid-19 infections are in WC; Comrades Marathon; MTN

By Jackie Cameron

  • The coronavirus outbreak in South Africa has hit hardest in the Western Cape. The province now has more than half of the 12,074 confirmed cases nationwide and in recent days contributed about 90% of new infections recorded by the Health Ministry. The Western Cape has registered 117 virus-related deaths out of 219 nationwide, and Gauteng 24. For more insights on the deadly Covid-19 virus, listen to Inside Covid-19 with Alec Hogg, who delves into the details of the latest medical thinking on the pandemic.
  • The Reserve Bank is expected to cut interest rates by 50 basis points on May 21 to a record low of 3.75% to ease the pain of the country’s recession, as this quarter shows signs of a steep downturn due to limited economic activity, a Reuters poll found. Nine of 20 economists surveyed a Reuters poll said the central bank would cut rates by 50 basis points to 3.75% next week. Four expect just a quarter-point trim. Three said the repo rate would be eased by 75 basis points and three expect no change. Nedbank economists were the only forecasters to predict rates would be cut by a full percentage point. “A GDP contraction of above 10% year-on-year for 2020 is instead now quite possible on a lengthy, severe lockdown … as many corporates not only temporarily cease activity, but do so permanently,” said Annabel Bishop, chief economist at Investec.
  • Investors were unimpressed with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s update on government thinking on how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. This was reflected in a decline in the value of the rand, which dropped by about 1.3% against the dollar on Thursday, extending Wednesday’s 0.9% decline, while the FTSE/JSE All Share Index slumped 2.6%, reports Bloomberg. Ramaphosa gave “a brilliant speech, but unfortunately it said next to nothing,” Rob Jeffrey, an economist at Johannesburg-based advisory service Econometrix, told the news service. “The president did not come out with the things he should have said about reviving the economy and appeared to be treading overly cautiously. The country is now in a situation where the cure is worse than the disease and millions of jobs are being lost,” said Jeffrey.
  • While the government has drawn praise from the World Health Organisation for its decisive response to the pandemic, public anger has been mounting about the economic meltdown and a raft of seemingly ill-considered lockdown rules, reports Bloomberg. The strange restrictions include a night-time curfew, bans on the sale of tobacco products, alcohol and summer clothing, limits on ecommerce and restricting exercise to a three-hour window, part of which falls before sunrise. The DA will file a lawsuit Thursday challenging the rationality of the curfew and restrictions on exercise and ecommerce, according to John Steenhuisen, the party’s acting leader. Another case will be filed on Friday contesting the constitutionality of the nation’s Disaster Management Act, which gives the council excessive and unchecked powers, he said. “The executive is effectively doing the job of writing our laws and regulations as they please,” Steenhuisen told journalists. “We have to fight this, because from here our democracy finds itself on a very slippery slope.”
  • The organisers of the world’s biggest ultramarathon have canceled the event for the first time since World War 2. The Comrades Marathon, that was due to take place on June 14 in South Africa, has been added to the list of sporting events around the globe scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last time the almost century-old event was canceled was from 1941 until 1945, says Bloomberg.
  • MTN reduced spending plans for the full year to focus on preserving cash and maintaining networks as Africa’s biggest wireless carrier by sales navigates the Covid-19 pandemic, says Reuters. MTN will invest about R21bn in 2020, compared with an earlier guidance of R28bn. Telecom firms have been among the more resilient to the coronavirus crisis as governments order populations to work and entertain themselves at home to contain the pandemic, says Reuters, noting that MTN shares declined 9.3% to R45.16 as of 4:19pm in Johannesburg. The stock has slumped more than 40% this year, in part due to exposure to Nigeria, which is facing economic strife caused by the combined impact of the coronavirus and weaker oil prices. Crosstown rival Vodacom is up 14% over the same period, adds the news service.
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