Tag: covid-19

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.

 

R350 covid relief grant reinstated

By Nonhlanhla Nozizwe Hlatshwayo for IOL

Advocacy group Black Sash has welcomed the reinstatement of the Covid-19 social relief of distress grant (SRD) and called on the South African Social Services Agency (Sassa) to ensure it is implemented more effectively.

This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday night that the grant will be reinstated until March next year. He said caregivers who are receiving the child support grant are also eligible.

Black Sash said Sassa should ensure this by urgently attending to the grant’s numerous administrative inefficiencies.

“Sassa must improve the grant’s application systems, appeals, payment processes with quicker turnaround times and develop a more effective communication strategy with applicants and beneficiaries,” they said.

Black Sash also raised concerns that the grant was not increased to at least the Food Poverty Line which is R585 a month.

“We will continue to advocate for permanent social assistance for the unemployed pegged at the Upper Bound Poverty Line, currently R1 268, while working towards a universal basic income as our ultimate goal.

“Given the country’s structural unemployment crisis, the Black Sash has repeatedly said that job creation programmes must be complemented with income support measures and a more comprehensive social security programme,” they said.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) also welcomed the announcement.

“We note the reinstatement of the SRD grant, which will help millions of South Africans worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the party said.

 

Kulula flights stopped until September

Source: MyBroadband

Comair has extended the suspension of Kulula.com and British Airways flights until 31 August 2021, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africa will remain on lockdown level 4.

Comair said the prohibition of all non-essential travel in and out of Gauteng means there is limited demand for business travel.

Comair suspended all scheduled flights from 5 July 2021 with the intention to start flying again on 30 July 2021.

However, given the uncertainty of the expected length of the recently adjusted level 4 lockdown, Comair decided to suspend flight operations until 31 August 2021.

“This decision has been taken in the interest of the well-being of employees and customers,” Comair said.

“Without Government engagement with or support for the aviation sector and associated services, the ability to plan constructively for a meaningful service beyond 30 July 2021 is exceptionally challenging.”

“Taking the potential variables into consideration, Comair plans to resume scheduled operations on Wednesday 1 September 2021.”

Comair CEO, Glenn Orsmond, apologised to customers affected by the suspension, adding that the decision was not made lightly.

Tickets for travel with Kulula.com from 28 June 2021 to 31 August 2021 will remain valid for 12 months until 31 August 2022. No change of booking fee or fare difference will be charged.

 

As many South African workers continue to work from home, many feel increasingly tired, stressed and uncertain about the future which is leading to rise in mental health concerns.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “Coronavirus and the imposition of lockdowns year has significantly raised mental health challenges.

“These are some of the major factors that have contributed to the stress and anxiety during this time:

  • Disrupted work-life balance: Balancing the work and personal life has become a major issue during this period. Extended hours of work just to finish off the task has led to the severe disruption of work-life balance.
  • Uncertain future: “Uncertainty about one’s career prospects for the future can be frustrating and worrying,” Trim said. “And it’s especially challenging for younger workers trying to learn from more experienced workers and trying to get ahead in their careers.”
  • Financial uncertainty: The economic impact of lockdowns has proved ruinous for many economies. “Many people live in fear of losing their jobs,” said Trim.

But there are ways to push back against the anxiety. This is how you can preserve the mental health while working from home:

Have separate areas for work and play: It is recommended to have a dedicated workspace to help you stay focused when working remotely.
“Having separate areas for work and play also makes it easier to mentally move from work mode to home mode,” says Trim.

Don’t use your work computer in your free time: Just like having different locations for work and private life, it’s important to separate your work tools from your play tools. The most obvious example is your laptop. “If you can afford it, make sure you don’t use the laptop where you are drafting your best selling novel for any other activity,” Trim advises.

Go for a walk after the workday is over: “If it’s safe and you can observe covid rules, go put for a walk or bike ride as soon as the workday is over. This will help you mentally switch to ‘home mode’ by getting you focused on a different activity, thereby relaxing your mind,” says Trim.

Do exercise to keep both your body and mind healthy: If you cannot or are worried about going out, do some exercises or stretches at home. Not only will physical activity help you divert your mind from work, but it will help you stay in shape and help you relax.

Plan your after-work time: When everyone is locked in and there isn’t much life outside your home, it’s difficult to break yourself away from work. Says Trim:” It’s essential to keep a check on what you are doing after work. Make plans beforehand so that it makes you look forward to finishing off the work.”

“It’s also really important to stay in touch, keep connecting and talking to each other, particularly friends and family,” Trim concludes.

Vaccines and the workplace

By Kate Collier, Shane Johnson, Heather Mudau for Webber Wentzel

The Minister of Employment and Labour has issued a revised Covid-19 Direction on Health and Safety in the Workplace. The Direction was signed by the Minister on 28 May 2021. In line with the previous versions of this Direction, it applies to all workplaces except mines, ships, boats or cranes and any other workplace which is regulated by a different direction on health and safety.

The provisions in the previous Direction (gazetted on 1 October 2020) largely remain intact in this Direction. The latest amendments largely provide regulations relating to Covid-19 vaccines and guidelines for employers who are considering mandatory vaccination of their employees. We summarise the key clauses of the Direction for employers below.

Definition of “Covid-19 vaccines”
The Direction defines “Covid-19 vaccines” as:

“a vaccine that has been scientifically evaluated and recommended by the WHO and approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to be effective in preventing severe disease and death, and likely to reduce SARS-CoV-2 viral transmission in order to contribute to herd immunity”

Employers must ensure that they comply with the provisions of the Direction discussed below.

Administrative measures
The employer must take steps to generate awareness and educate employees on the Covid-19 vaccine, including information on the:

  • benefits of the vaccine
  • contra-indications for vaccination
  • nature and risk of any serious side-effects (eg severe allergic reactions)

To compile this information, the Direction refers employers to the Frequently Asked Questions section on the National Institute of Health website.

In addition to awareness and education around the Covid-19 vaccine, employers must also provide administrative support to employees to register on the Electronic Vaccine Data System Registration Portal for Covid-19.

Employers must also provide employees with paid time off to have the vaccination on the allocated date and time. The employee will be required to provide the employer with proof of vaccination, particularly when it is scheduled to take place during working hours.

Symptom screening
The Direction confirms that the isolation procedures applicable to employees who present with Covid-19 symptoms at work does not apply to employees who present with symptoms for one to three days after having the Covid-19 vaccination.

If an employee is unable to work after having had the Covid-19 vaccine due to side-effects, the employee should be placed on paid sick leave. The employer may accept a Covid-19 vaccination certificate as proof of illness instead of a medical certificate.

Employers who are considering mandatory vaccinations for employees must comply with the following provisions of the Direction.

Risk assessment and plans for protective measures
Clause 3(1)(ii) of the Direction provides that the employer must undertake a risk assessment within 21 days of the commencement of the direction to determine if it intends to make vaccination mandatory. If the employer does intend to make vaccination mandatory, it must then identify which employees must be vaccinated considering risk of transmission due to the nature of their work or risk of severe Covid-19 disease due to age or co-morbidities. Clause 3(3)(c) makes it clear that even if vaccination is mandatory, such a policy will only be enforceable “as and when Covid-19 vaccines become available”.

After conducting the risk assessment, the employer must clearly formulate a plan (or amend an existing plan) that outlines the measures it intends to implement on mandatory vaccination of employees.

The plan must include the following elements –

The identification of the employees who will be subject to vaccination

The process by which the obligations under the Direction will be complied with by the employer

Whether the employer is planning to make it mandatory for identified employees to be vaccinated
If the employer decides to make vaccination mandatory for employees, its mandatory vaccination policy must state that employees will be notified of the following:

  • the obligation to be vaccinated once the vaccine becomes available
  • their right to refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds
  • their opportunity to consult a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated on any constitutional or medical grounds, the employer should take the following steps:

  • counsel the employee and, if requested, allow the employee to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, worker
  • representative or trade union official
  • refer the employee for further medical evaluation if there is a medical contraindication for vaccination
  • if necessary, take steps to reasonably accommodate the employee in a position that does not require the employee to be vaccinated.

Source: MyBroadband

The Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee (MAC) has warned that stricter lockdown measures are needed as a third wave is looming.

News24 reported that the MAC has raised concerns that large gatherings are contributing to the increase in cases in recent weeks.

South Africa has seen a steady increase in Covid-19 cases, with the Free State, Northern Cape, Gauteng, and North West experiencing the start of third waves.

The increase in coronavirus cases started a month ago, when the average daily positives per week was at 1,170.

In May Covid-19 infections increased rapidly, with the average daily positive cases per week increasing to 3,487.

Professor Adrian Puren from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases said many provinces are experiencing a rapid increase in cases.

Puren said some areas are already in the midst of a third wave or have not properly exited a second wave.

Amidst the rise in cases, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) will meet today to consider limits on large gatherings and an earlier curfew.

According to the News24 report, South Africa could soon be moving to an adjusted level 2 of the lockdown.

Daily cases

This does not come as a surprise. Many experts, including Marc Mendelson, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Cape Town, has called for limits on large gatherings.

Mendelson said South Africa needs to put stricter lockdown measures in place, especially around indoor and mass gatherings, to limit the spread of Covid-19.

He said indoor and mass gatherings are linked to super-spreader events, which South Africa should guard against.

Mendelson called on the government to immediately ban mass gatherings and limit indoor gatherings, including at churches, casinos, and other indoor areas.

Professor Alex van den Heever from the Wits School of Governance also said limiting mass gatherings was the right thing to do.

Winter periods make it difficult to contain the virus, which means that even with restrictions it is challenging to avoid another wave.

If South Africa can address gatherings, however, it will reduce the possibility of a severe third wave.

 

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