Tag: covid-19

By Xolile Mtembu for IOL

Several South African companies have announced that they will implement a vaccine mandate. Under this policy, workers who do not want to vaccinate will not have access to their employer’s premises. While some of the companies said they might retrench employees who refuse the jab, others said they would not.

Discovery was one of the first companies to reveal its plans to introduce mandatory vaccinations. In September, chief executive Adrian Gore said their mandatory vaccination policy would include all the group’s properties across the country. “Based on the science and public health imperative, we see it as our responsibility to materially increase the country’s overall vaccination rate.

“We hold ourselves to the highest standard in this regard. This is crucial both ethically, given the scale of immune-compromised people in our country, and practically, given the degree of vaccine hesitancy currently being observed,” said Gore.

In the same month, Sanlam, Africa’s largest non-bank financial services group, announced that it would join Discovery in imposing mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for all staff from 2022, although it said it won’t fire workers who refused to be inoculated.

Private education group Curro also said at the time that it would require all staff be vaccinated by year-end. Its chief executive, Andries Greyling, said mandatory vaccination was aimed at creating a safe teaching and learning space. The company may consider retrenching those who fail to oblige.

MTN Group announced that its vaccination policy will go into effect from January. Group president Ralph Mutipa cited science as the reason for the mobile telecommunications company’s decision to require its workers to get the jab.

“The science is clear. Vaccination against Covid-19 reduces rates of serious infection, hospitalisations and death. As an employer, we have a responsibility to ensure that our workplaces are guided by the highest standards of health and safety, and that has informed our decision to make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for our staff,” said Mutipa.

Old Mutual’s vaccination mandate starts from January 2022. The company will require all their workers to provide proof of vaccination. The insurance company’s chief executive, Iain Williamson, said: “Across the world, vaccinations are proving to be the key to unlocking economic activity, returning life to a more normal rhythm, preventing severe illness and death, decreasing transmission rates as well as reducing the emergence of new variants of the disease.”

Standard Bank said its vaccine mandate would begin on April 4, 2022. Every employee of the bank would be expected to be inoculated but those who had a reason for not being vaccinated could lodge an objection on constitutional or medical grounds.

Retailer Game also backs the government’s call to get more South Africans vaccinated through its Vaccination Appreciation Wednesday venture. The company offers a 10% discount to customers who produce proof of vaccination or a valid ID. This discount is available to those who purchase goods up to R10 000.

Big Concerts International announced that South Africans wanting to attend its events in future will be required to show proof of vaccination against Covid- 19. This follows the news that Canadian superstar Justin Bieber will perform in the country in September and October next year, as part of plans to restart arena events in the country soon.

Big Concerts says all music fans eligible to be vaccinated should have received the jab as a prerequisite to enter its concert venues. It says the only ones exempted from this are those whose age group had not yet been called upon to get vaccinated by the time of the event.

The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) yesterday recommended to government that vaccine mandates should be implemented at workplaces and that some venues be only accessible to vaccinated persons.

By Siphelele Dludla for IOL

The South African economy shrunk by 1.5 percent in the three months to September following four quarters of consecutive growth, eroding some economic gains made since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

This was the first quarter of contraction since the second quarter of 2020.

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) today said this was due to the pressures of tighter Covid-19 lockdown restrictions during the third wave and a spate of civil unrest in July.

The country was on Alert Level 4 lockdown from 28 June to 25 July, impacting growth in the tourist accommodation sector, as well as constricting restaurant and catering trade.

This latest gross domestic product (GDP) reading means that the economy in the third quarter of 2021 was on par with the first quarter of 2016.

“The economy is 3.1 percent smaller than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic,” StatsSA said.

StatsSA said 6 of the 10 industries recorded a decline in production in the third quarter, with agriculture, trade and manufacturing the hardest hit.

The agriculture industry recorded its biggest drop in production since 2016, contracting by 13.6 percent.

Together with a decline in the production of animal products, the industry in KwaZulu-Natal was dealt a major blow by the civil disorder in July.

Maize, citrus and sugarcane farms recorded losses from fires set during the upheaval.

The trade industry shrank by 5.5 percent, with all trade sectors reporting losses.

Wholesale, retail and motor trade were negatively affected by the widespread looting and destruction that gripped KwaZulu-Natal as well as Gauteng.

StatsSA said a cyberattack that disrupted operations at South African ports also dealt a further blow to motor trade.

The manufacturing industry declined by 4.2 percent, dragged lower in the main by the civil disorder and global shortages of raw materials.

However, four industries managed to keep their heads above water, with the finance industry increasing economic activity by 1.2 percent.

Personal services saw an uptick in economic activity on the back of increased spending on private healthcare and the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines for those aged between 18 and 35 years. General government expanded by 0,4%, attributed to a rise in employment in local government and extra-budgetary accounts and funds.

By Given Majola for IOL

Research released by Visa this week shows that consumers were optimistic about economic recovery, increasingly comfortable spending on non-essentials, luxury items, dining and travel.

The study that tracks the impact of the pandemic on consumer attitudes and spending across Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) revealed that in South Africa, 42% of consumers said they now shopped for groceries online.

Overall, Visa’s survey found that the Covid-19 pandemic had created significant opportunities for the e-commerce channel, especially those retailers entering the digital economy for the first time, and those consumers who made their very first online purchases.

Visa South Africa Country Manager Aldo Laubscher said their research showed how the Covid-19 pandemic had transformed the way the region’s consumers spend their money, with many of these significant behavioural changes likely to continue after the pandemic.

“As online shopping and contact less payments become the ‘new normal’, it is more important than ever that businesses adapt to the changing consumer demand for a digital experience, which is increasingly seen as a safer and more seamless alternative to cash,” Laubscher said.

Vaccine passport to launch this week

By Xolile Bhengu for IOL

The Department of Health hopes to have the first phase of the digital vaccine passport system implemented by the end of the week.

The passport soft-launched on Tuesday morning for testing.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla made the announcement during the launch of the mobile Covid-19 vaccine site at uMlazi township’s Umlazi Plaza as part of the Vooma Vaccination Weekend.

Phaahla said the pandemic had accelerated plans by the department, as it headed towards a universal healthcare system, to have a more digitised patient system.

“We will keep improving the system to verify that it captures the correct details for every person that has visited a vaccination site.”

The passport could be used to verify being vaccinated and allow access to sport facilities and music events, he said.

He said it was crucial for the department that KZN – which is a tourism-focused province – avoids a possible fourth wave.

He said the government was opting to engage the public about the Covid-19 vaccine instead of enforcing law enforcement for spreading false information about the vaccine.

The Health Department said the 18-34 year age group had not brought in the numbers they had initially hoped for in the vaccine roll-out programme, and the over 60 age group had challenges such as lack of transportation to reach vaccine sites.

It said KZN had only reached 11.1% of the required 70% for herd immunity.

Phaahla said only 13 million people had been fully vaccinated and the country needed more.

The government wants to have 70% of the adult population vaccinated by the end of the year.

He said while the initial uptake of Covid-19 vaccines had been good, a lot of misinformation had led people to become scared.

“Covid-19 forced us to revisit and improve our digital health platforms. The pandemic enabled us to have one health registration system through EVDS to merge both the public and private health system. We still have to discuss how post the pandemic the system could be utilised. It could be converted to an e-health file system, to have a proper medical history verification process through just scanning an ID number,” said Phaahla.

KZN MEC for Health Nomagugu Simelane said uMlazi as the second largest township in the country had been identified as one of the areas where the department needed to focus to ensure that people get vaccinated.

“Initially we were everywhere to drive the vaccine roll-out. But (Phaahla) has asked us to focus our efforts where we can see we have the lowest numbers.

“The private sector has come out to support us. For instance Toyota helped us to set up a vaccine site for its 8 000 employees, with the additional agreement that the site would be made available to the local community as well.

“Other companies that have come to the party are Spar and Hulett. We cannot do this alone and we need partnerships and we are asking even taxi owners to join us,” said Simelane.


Lockdown now due to be ‘reviewed’ by 3 October

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa was moving down a lockdown level, from Level 3 to Level 2, in a mid-September address to the nation, he offered hope that even less strict rules could be just around the corner.

“These measures will be reviewed in two weeks time depending on the state of the pandemic,” he said, after detailing the new curfew, limits on gatherings, and rules for alcohol sales.

That promise was made formal in regulations published on the same night, on 12 September with just a little more detail: the regulations would be “reviewed and amended where necessary”, and that would be done within two weeks of their publication, so the count would start on that day, said co-operative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

That deadline fell on Sunday, 26 September.

But instead of a review of lockdown, the government simply pushed out the deadline.

In a notice signed by Dlamini Zuma on the same long-weekend Sunday, she rubbed out that 12 September sub-section and replaced it with a one-week countdown starting immediately.

That sets the new review date for Adjusted Alert Level 2 – with the expectation that it would be reduced to Level 1 – on Sunday, 3 October.

However, there appears to be no reason the deadline can not again be extended, by the same simple method of decree, either before that date or at the last second again.

After rapid evolution over the last 15 months, Alert Level 1 is now expected to maintain the requirement to wear a mask while in public, and to demand Covid-19 tests from everyone entering South Africa, but to have little further impact on daily life.


Financially strained South Africans cut spending

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

South Africans under financial pressure due to the Covid–19 pandemic are cutting spending on non-essentials such as restaurants and take-aways, and TV subscriptions.

These were the findings of Santam’s Insurance Barometer report for 2020/21.

Its findings were in line with the Old Mutual Savings & Investment Monitor (OMSIM) released in August which also found that women were cutting down on shopping at premium grocery stores like Woolworths.

The Santam Insurance Barometer showed that the challenging economy, political unrest, the pandemic impact on businesses, cybercrime and climate change are among the top risks highlighted by consumers, intermediaries and corporates polled.

Santam said that some of the most notable trends among South African consumers over the past 18 months were that 50% of consumers reduced the number of kilometres driven each week by an average of 44%, from 162km to 90km per week.

This was likely brought on by the increasing work-from-home trend brought on by the Covid–19 lockdown in South Africa.

On the technology front, 16% of consumers upgraded their computers and connectivity to enable them to work from home. Three in four people reported an increase in their use of technology.

In addition to measuring the concerns of individuals and organisations related to short-term insurance, the survey also asked respondents regarding their spending habits.

Consumer respondents said they targeted the following areas when looking to reduce expenditure, in the following proportions:

  • 59% — restaurant outings, food take-aways when looking to reduce expenditure
  • 45% — travel and petrol, clothing, footwear, and accessories
  • 33% — hobbies, sports and gym expenditure
  • 28% — groceries
  • 23% — TV subscriptions
  • 19% — domestic travel
  • 15% — cellphone contract
  • 10% — repayment of debt
  • 10% — school fees

BusinessTech noted that Santam’s findings were in line with those from the Old Mutual Savings & Investment Monitor (OMSIM) published in August.

In addition to showing that consumers cut back on spending, the OMSIM also showed that South Africans adapted their lifestyles.

The top ways households reduced expenditure was by switching to cheaper supermarket brands, and downgrading DStv and streaming services.

While OMSIM specifically mentions Woolworths in relation to people switching to cheaper supermarket brands, it is interesting to note that Woolworths reported an increase in sales at its grocery stores in its latest financial results.

Source: MyBroadband

Here are 10 steps before considering dismissing an employee for refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine:

1. Perform a Covid-19 risk assessment

This will determine whether a mandatory vaccination policy is necessary and to identify employees who work in situations where:

  • The risk of transmission is high due to the nature of their work.
  • The risk for severe Covid-19 or death is high due to an employee’s age or comorbidities.

2. Develop a vaccination plan or adjust your existing Covid-19 plan

3. Educate employees about vaccines and provide them with more information

Relevant information can be found in the vaccine FAQ section of the NICD’s website .

4. Assist employees with registering for vaccination on the EVDS portal

Registering on the health department’s Electronic Vaccination Database System (EVDS) allow South Africans to book a time and select the vaccination site where they would like to receive their vaccine.

5. Give employees paid time off to be vaccinated

If you implement a mandatory vaccination policy, you may not withhold pay or force employees to take leave without pay.

6. Place employees who suffer from vaccine side effects on paid leave

Employees who suffer from side effects after taking the vaccine should be given sick leave. If their sick leave is exhausted, they may qualify for further paid time off.

7. Keep employees informed on vaccination issues

This includes notifying them about:

  • The obligation to be vaccinated and by what date.
  • The right to refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds.
  • The opportunity to consult with a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official.

8. Counsel employees who refuse to be vaccinated on any constitutional grounds

Talk to employees and allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative if requested. Refer the employee for further medical evaluation if they refuse to be vaccinated based on a medical condition.

9. Explore alternative arrangements

Dismissal should only be a last resort. The employer should attempt to accommodate the employee in a position where they do not require the vaccine.

Possible options to consider include letting the employee:

  • Work off-site
  • Work from home
  • Work in isolation (at the workplace)
  • Work outside normal working hours
  • Work while wearing an N95 mask

10. Follow the correct procedure for dismissals

If all other options have been exhausted, Truter advised against disciplinary action. Instead, he said to deal with the dismissal as one of “operational requirements” or “incapacity”.

By Londiwe Buthelezi for News24

With Covid-19 waging a brutal war on human life, 2020 became one of the toughest years for insurers as death claims surged to levels not seen in recent history.

Insurers paid R522.7-billion to policyholders and beneficiaries in 2020 after fielding almost half a million (434 216) legitimate death claims.

But the industry had to deal with another epidemic: fraudulent claims which sought to fleece the industry R587.3 million.

Those providing funeral insurance were the hardest hit as 2 282 of the reported 3 186 cases of fraudulent claims related to funeral cover.

From a desperate family that laid a dead body on the road so that it can claim accidental cover to syndicates who buy dead bodies or prey on drug addicts, fraudsters had plenty of tricks up their sleeves.

The insurance industry’s representative body, the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (Asisa), said it was not surprised. Even before the desperation brought by Covid-19 as people lost incomes and some stayed with bodies they didn’t know how they’d bury, insurance fraud was rife in SA. In 2019, SA insurers reported 2 837 fraudulent and dishonest claims to the value of R537.1 million.

READ | Unlawful for insurers to push exorbitant funeral cover increases, says regulator
Megan Govender, the convenor of the Asisa forensics standing committee, said funeral insurance has always been a soft target for fraudsters. But the Covid-19 pandemic has made it worse as the desperation due to job losses drove more people to resort to crime, especially because the excess deaths last year made it easier to source dead bodies for fraudulent claims.

“Since funeral insurance policies do not require blood tests and medical examinations and are designed to pay out quickly and without hassle when an insured family member dies, criminals and dishonest individuals most commonly try their luck in this space,” said Govender.

Some hair-raising cases

Asisa said the buying of dead bodies often involves syndicates and mortuary employees. The syndicates buy dead bodies and then use them to claim against policies that were fraudulently taken out some months earlier. They usually buy unclaimed bodies.

Another modus operandi involving syndicates targets drug addicts and alcoholics from poor communities with a promise of a job to obtain their personal details and fraudulently buy funeral cover for them.

When the waiting period lapses, the syndicates then have to find a body, which could be done through the purchase from a mortuary. But Govender said in one incident, the syndicate tried to murder the addict they’d covered. But the victim escaped.

However, it’s not just the syndicates that insurers have to worry about. One family collected the body from the mortuary before the death was registered and “purposefully” placed it on the road. It reported a hit and run accident and submitted a claim.

Govender said cases of families so desperate for funeral cover payouts are common, especially when the person died while they were still under the waiting period that insurers impose. Some resort to these tricks as accidental death benefits have no waiting period.

As for the other insurance products, Asisa said there were 388 fraudulent life insurance death claims totalling R264.3 million. Policyholders submitted 325 fraudulent and misrepresented disability claims, 141 hospital cash-back claims, and 50 retrenchment claims. KwaZulu-Natal had the highest number of detected fraudulent claims, followed by the Eastern Cape.


Vaccines available for 18- to 34-year-olds

By Nicola Daniels for IOL

Vaccine registration is officially open to all adults, with the announcement that those aged 18 to 34-year-old will be eligible to register and get vaccinated from Friday onwards.

The announcement has been welcomed by Premier Alan Winde who said the province had the capacity to accommodate increased demand.

“I welcome, with excitement, the announcement today that residents in the 18 to 34-year-old age cohort (or 18+) will be eligible to register and get vaccinated from tomorrow onwards. This now means that all adult residents living in the Western Cape will have access to the lifesaving and job-creating vaccines,” Winde said.

He said there had been a decrease in vaccine uptake across the country, attributed to vaccine hesitancy and the need to improve access to vulnerable and remote groups.

“We’ve seen major interest and excitement from this age group, and we look forward to them making use of our vaccination sites. We have the capacity, infrastructure and supplies to manage this increased demand.”

So far, 741 356 vaccines have been administered to those in the over 60 age cohort, 309 587 vaccines have been administered to those in the over 50-59 age cohort and 372 782 vaccines have been administered to those in the over 35-49 age cohort.

Health head Dr Keith Cloete said there are currently 46 395 active infectious cases in the province, and the combined public-private oxygen utilisation is now 78.73 tons/day (104.9% of the maximal production capacity of 75 tons/day) at the Afrox Western Cape plant.

“We are in the peak of the third wave and are starting to see small percent decreases in some of our indicators. Case numbers have started to decrease. Admissions have plateaued with around 320 new admissions each day and deaths have decreased to around 100 deaths daily,” he said.

The numbers of children infected in this wave was also higher than any of the previous waves, he added.

“The risk of being exposed to Covid-19 at gatherings remains very high due to the high number of active cases,” said Cloete.

“Currently, there are 3663 Covid-19 patients in our acute hospitals, 2 003 in public hospitals and 1 660 in private hospitals. This excludes persons under investigation and cases in specialised hospital settings.”

Register by visiting: https://vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za/#/ or WhatsApp the word REGISTER to 0600 123456.


By Londiwe Buthelezi for News24

Consumers are facing heavy debt pressure as the impact of the pandemic continues to hit home.

DebtBusters says the number of people approaching it with debt counselling inquiries rose 18% in the second quarter of 2021, compared to the same time last year when SA was under the harshest lockdown level.

DebtBusters said while more people might be back at work now, many consumers are seeking help because of the after-effects of the lockdowns. Reduced incomes because of stop-and-go economic activities in the past year meant that many people’s ability to borrow has narrowed.

“It is clear that the debt situation of SA consumers has further deteriorated recently. In the absence of a meaningful increase in real income growth, SA consumers continue to supplement their income with more unsecured credit,” wrote DebtBusters.

But the company also attributes this pressure on consumers to the long-standing decline in real incomes in SA.

According to DebtBusters’ calculations, while nominal incomes in the country have increased 3% compared to 2016 levels, the cumulative inflation growth of 24% over the same period means that real incomes have shrunk by 21% over those five years.
With real incomes moving the opposite direction of living expenses, more people have been borrowing to supplement their incomes just to get by.

Unsecured debt, which includes credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans – debt usually used for consumption – has increased by 32% for the average client who approached DebtBusters since the second quarter of 2016. Top earners’ unsecured debt levels are now 49% higher than five years ago.

As the debt mounts, more consumers consistently need to spend around 60% of their take-home pay to service their debt, at least until they turn to debt counsellors for help.

DebtBusters said in the second quarter, the debt-to-income ratio for all income bands (among their clients) increased to its highest levels to date. This is the percentage of people’s gross monthly income that goes towards paying their monthly debt obligations.

Among their clients, the debt-to-income ratio sat at the average of 122% across the income bands. But for those taking home R20 000 or more per month, it increased to 152%. In the second quarter of 2016, these consumers’ debt-to-income ratio stood at 126%.

“With all this said, there is some positive news. The number of clients completing debt counselling successfully has increased by sevenfold over the last five years,” wrote DebtBusters.


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