Covid-19 expected to peak in SA from July, 40k deaths; new China lockdown; Bitcoin; platinum coins; Ninety One

By Jackie Cameron

  • Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has moved to quash optimism that the Covid-19 lockdown is going to be fully lifted any time soon. The rate of new coronavirus infections in South Africa has to slow in line with World Health Organisation guidelines first, he says – and his team expects the peak only in July or August, with 40 000 deaths in November. And, reports Bloomberg, he says that, according to the government’s Covid-19 modelling team, active coronavirus cases could peak at 1.2m in July or 1m in early August, while the death toll could reach 40,000 to 45,000 by November. South Africa, which has the highest number of confirmed infections on the continent, eased some restrictions on May 1, almost five weeks after imposing a stringent lockdown. Schools will be allowed to reopen gradually from June 1. The country’s case count increased by 767 to 17,200 on Tuesday, while the death toll rose by 26 to 312, says Bloomberg.
  • A fresh outbreak of Covid-19 in China’s North East has prompted another lockdown to contain the spread of the virus among 100m people. China has imposed quarantine restrictions on cities in the province of Jilin, part of a wider province located in the Dongbei region and home to more than 100m residents. The threat level in the area has been raised to “high-risk” by health authorities. Some 46 cases have been reported over the past two weeks spread across three cities – Shulan, Jilin city and Shengyang – in two provinces, says Bloomberg, noting that this resurgence of infection has sparked renewed lockdown measures. Officials now believe that the new cluster stemmed from contact with infected arrivals from Russia, which has one of the worst outbreaks in Europe.
  • Naspers’ Bitcoin company Luno is expanding operations as traders pile into the cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency platform  is in talks about expanding in Kenya and Ghana to extend its African footprint, reports Bloomberg. Bitcoin has rallied by 99% over the past two months amid the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s markets we have a keen interest in, and Ghana and Kenya are high on our list,” Luno General Manager Marius Reitz told the news service. While the outbreak has been beneficial in terms of transactions doubling on the exchange, it’s become harder to travel to talk to key stakeholders, he said. The exchange, which trades Bitcoin, Ethereum, XRP and Litcoin, recently moved beyond South Africa and Nigeria to start operating in Zambia and Uganda, he said. The South African company now employs 400 people, across seven offices in Africa, Europe and Asia. Luno was founded seven years ago and now has four million users, adding about a million customers as the spread of Covid-19 shut down economies around the world. Activity on the market is being boosted by people looking for digital ways to transact and limit human contact, Reitz is reported as saying.
  • Investors seeking a haven from the economic turmoil created by the coronavirus pandemic are snapping up platinum coins engraved with African wildlife. Over 2,000 coins featuring an elephant sold out to US and Asian investors after being minted in March, according to Prestige Bullion. More will be produced once South Africa’s virus lockdown is lifted, Richard Collocott, managing director of the Johannesburg-based company, told Bloomberg. Additional coins showing the rest of the so-called Big Five animals – lion, rhinoceros, leopard and buffalo – will be minted at six-month intervals. “The platinum bullion coin has performed strongly with good levels of interest from customers, especially in the US and Asia,” Collocott said. “The demand remains high and we expect to take orders once production resumes.” Prestige Bullion, jointly owned by the South African Reserve Bank and Rand Refinery, is targeting a 20% share of the 100,000-ounce global market for platinum coins. The premium that coin purchasers typically pay above spot prices has widened as demand surged in March and April amid constrained supplies and market turmoil caused by the pandemic, Trevor Raymond, director of research at the World Platinum Investment Council, is quoted as saying.
  • Ninety One, the asset manager that split from Investec, saw its share price jump on the back of a healthy set of first-year financial results, with profit before tax increasing by 11%. It was the best performer by the end of the trading session, its share price jumping by about 10%. In a statement on SENS, Ninety One said: “This was a year of meaningful progress in the strategic positioning of Ninety One as an independent, focused investment manager with significant employee ownership. We executed a demerger and listing, with an exciting new brand.”
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