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Live: WHO briefing on latest COVID-19 developments
27 April 2020, 5:16 PM

The World Health Organisation briefing on the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. There are over 3 million confirmed cases of the virus around the globe.

Video: Finance Minister Mboweni briefing
24 April 2020, 2:00 PM

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s briefing Thursday night, where he announced some easing of lockdown rules aimed at getting the country’s economy started again, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has further elaborated on the plans.

Below is the full briefing:

NCAS warns of harms associated to cigarettes as ban on sales lifted
24 April 2020, 12:18 PM

The National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) has reiterated to the public the health implications that could occur as a result of smoking. This after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a lift on the ban of the sale of cigarettes – once the national coronavirus alert level is lowered from 5 to 4 on the 1st of May.

The tobacco lobby group, FITA, previously argued against the ban on the sale of cigarettes, saying the lockdown regulations were not explicit on tobacco trading.

NCAS Executive Director, Savera Kalideen, has described the lowering of the alert level as a relaxation of the lockdown regulations.

“The lockdown is being relaxed on the basis of levels and if you look at all of the relations that are going to come into operation from 1 May, there is a whole range of them including that all retail stores are being able to sell all the products that they normally sell. What we are seeing is a relaxation of the lockdown regulations from level 5 to level 4. So what we would want to remind South Africans of is the harm from tobacco. They know 8 out of 10 South Africans do not smoke and they are fully aware of the health harm from the product.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the sale of cigarettes will be allowed as well as an extension of the list of essential goods that can be bought.

However, entertainment venues including bars and shebeens will remain closed.

“The sale of cigarettes will be permitted. The range of goods that may be sold will be extended to incorporate certain additional categories.”

“Conference and convention centres, entertainment venues, cinemas, theatres and concerts will remain closed,” adds the President.

Below is a risk-adjusted strategy for economic activity document:

Political parties welcome Ramaphosa’s announcement of gradual easing of nationwide lockdown

Political parties have welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a gradual easing of the nationwide lockdown in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Addressing the nation on Thursday, Ramaphosa said that on May 1, 2020 the country will enter alert level four of the lockdown, which means some activities will be allowed with extreme caution.

The video below is the President’s full address:

Most of the political parties have expressed their support of the move by government to phase in the lifting of the nationwide lockdown to reopen some sectors of the economy.

The DA’s interim leader John Steenhuisen says that any phased lifting of lockdown restrictions should be accompanied by massive testing, tracing, tracking and publishing of reliable data

“This is precisely what we’ve been calling for in our smart lockdown plan released 10 days ago. It’s encouraging to be able to see how we’ve [been] able to cooperate with government in this way and to know we are on the same page in facing this daunting challenge.“

”We will obviously wait for the details but it’s also critical that phased lifting of the lockdown is accompanied by a massive increase in testing, tracing and tracking and that the publishing of this data is prioritised.”

“This is important because South Africans need to know where we are in terms of the various phases and it informs how we transition between those phases.”

Meanwhile, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa says this move will resuscitate the economy: “The UDM welcomes the country’s road map back to normality. This balancing act will no doubt lead to resuscitation of our economy so that we don’t become the country of consumers, let us go back and do this in an orderly fashion.”

The African Transformation Movement (ATM) expressed its satisfaction with the maintained closure of borders.

ATM NEC Member Sibusiso Mncwabe explains: “We welcome the fact that our borders will continue to be closed because we know as a country that we’ve got porous borders, we are happy that they will continue to be closed down up until we are able to defeat this pandemic.”

”We’ll be expecting as the President has said that the ministers give us a clear picture as to what will happen going forward but we agree that we can’t be reckless in dealing with the phasing out of this lockdown, we therefore accept what the President has said.”

COVID-19 cases at 2783, 50 deaths
17 April 2020, 9:11 PM

The COVID-19 related death toll in South Africa has now risen to 50. This is an increase of two from Thursday’s figure of 48.

The Health Ministry has also announced that the number of confirmed cases now stands at 2 783.

Breakdown of latest COVID-19 stats below:

The deaths were recorded in the Western Cape.

The number of positive cases are also on a sharp rise with 178 new cases.

Gauteng remains the epicenter of the pandemic with 1018 cases followed by the Western Cape with 717 and KwaZulu-Natal with 591.

On Thursday,  the Eastern Cape and Limpopo recorded their first deaths. The Northern Cape is the least affected province with only 16 cases. In a statement, the Health Ministry says to date, over 100 000 tests have been conducted.

Simplified breakdown of COVID-19 in SA below:

The Department has also conveyed its condolences to the families and thanked the health workers that treated the deceased patients.

Meanwhile, Head of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, Professor Salim Abdool Karim says South Africa’s rollout of the coronavirus community screening and testing will lead to a drastic increase in the infection rate because that’s when the real picture will emerge.

Karim’s webinar hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Friday unpacked his thoughts around critical issues, such as the impact of increased community screening on infection numbers, how the virus will impact HIV positive people, and the sanctity of scientific data in tackling the scourge

He introduced himself as a spokesperson for the brilliant scientists, researchers and scholars making up the COVID-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee. However, this world-renowned epidemiologist is being called upon to use his years of leading HIV research and leadership to drive South Africa’s COVID-19 fight.

Karim cleared up concerns around why infection numbers are increasing despite the lockdown, something that’s been alarming South Africans. He explained that as the country’s screening and testing increase, so too will the number of new cases.

Karim says the third week of the lockdown is a more accurate indicator of the rate of infections in the country, compared to the first two.

He says, “We had such a strong effect of the state of disaster that there’s not much room for the lockdown to drop the cases even more. So when we look at the cases we’ve seen in this last week I bet all of you are wondering, why is it so much so often above the 90 mark? The problem is that we initiated a community health worker programme. So suddenly in this third week we now have a whole new reporting method. Active case finding.”

Ban on alcohol sales to remain during lockdown
17 April 2020, 7:31 PM

The Presidency has declined the request of the Gauteng Liquor Forum on behalf of its members to sell alcohol during the declared national state of disaster.

The President has further noted that the Gauteng Liquor Forum’s position is not shared by all industry stakeholders, and that a number of other organizations in the liquor industry have rejected the call for the restrictions to be lifted.

Meanwhile, police in Gauteng have arrested a bottle store owner for allegedly violating lockdown regulations. This after a motorist was stopped at a roadblock with alcohol in his car. When police further questioned the driver he lead them to where he had bought the alcohol at an outlet in Orlando, Soweto. Police confiscated the alcohol.

In the video below, more details on the arrest of the bottle store owner:

Police have also made a number of arrests this week as people continue to sell cigarettes and alcohol against the lockdown regulations.

On Thursday, amendments were announced to the lockdown regulations. However, the ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes remains.

INFOGRAPHIC: Amendments to regulations:

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The lockdown is part of government’s efforts to minimise the spread of the coronavirus. It has been extended by two more weeks until the end of April.

This week the Metro Police arrested 10 people who were in possession of cigarettes with the street value of R1.5 million. The ban on the sale of cigarette and tobacco products was instituted at the start of the lockdown last month.

This gentleman, who spoke anonymously, says he’s struggling to cope without smoking. He says he had to come up with means. And currently, he’s resorted to illicit cigarettes.

“At the end of the day the urge to smoke is there, so what we see is what we get. It’s not like we really want to get those fake things or what. At this point in time, when the craving comes you just have to take what you see.”

The illicit trade in tobacco, especially cigarettes, costs South Africa’s economy billions of rand annually – through lost tax revenue. For example, in the 2015/16 financial year, the South African Revenue Service (SARS), estimated a loss of six billion rand through illegal cigarette trade.

Head of external affairs at British American Tobacco Johnny Moloto explains how this trade thrives.

“They sell their products very low, below the taxable price. That’s how they evade tax and that costs government billions.”

This week alone the Community Safety Department – along with police – made three separate arrests linked to illicit cigarettes. The biggest arrest was in Centurion where Tshwane Metro Police arrested 10 suspects for being in possession of cigarettes estimated at R1.5 million. They had been selling them from a flat.

National Police Spokesperson Vish Naidoo, however,  says there’s no evidence that there’s been an increase in this trade.

“Although there are few reported incidents of people getting arrested, there is no substantial evidence that the selling of illicit cigarettes has increased during the lockdown.”

In other incidents, two suspects were arrested in Randburg for selling cigarettes, a further charge of bribery was added after they allegedly offered officers money. Two men were also arrested in the CBD for selling alcohol and cigarettes.

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