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Voting
COVID-19 pandemic could impact on next year’s LGE: Analyst
17 April 2020, 4:13 PM

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says the COVID-19 pandemic could have a negative impact on next year’s local government elections if the spreading of the virus is not contained nationally.

South Africa has 2 605 confirmed coronavirus cases with the death toll at 48.

INFOGRAPHIC: Number of COVID-19 infections and deaths:

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Mathekga says since there is currently no vaccine for the virus, the Electoral Commission of South Africa would be obliged to come up with other voting methods including an electronic system.

“It actually says it’s going to have an impact towards the period of elections. It’s going to impact towards campaigning. But also the method of voting as well. I mean you might need to arrange the method of voting in a way that you might need to avoid crowding. You might want also to split it around days. And I also think that we might need to be innovative even thinking electronically. There are digital platforms, if there are those that exist through which people can express their democratic rights. So certainly it’s not going to be business as usual.”

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission of South Africa says it is currently considering asking the Electoral Court to postpone the June by-elections due to the COVID-19 and lockdown regulations. The IEC got a court order granting its request to postpone about 20 by-elections that were scheduled to be held nationwide last month.

IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo, “The by-elections that we approached the electoral court to postponed beyond the legislated mandate involves all the nine provinces bar two…so it involves almost all the nine provinces in the country. They were twenty in total. Subsequently, to that there are other bar elections that were due on the 10th of June. We are currently considering the possibility of approaching the electoral court for a similar judicial injunction, which is to postpone them beyond the legislated ninety days.”

INFOGRAPHIC: Amendments to regulations:

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An image of cigarettes.
Police crack-down on illegal sale of alcohol and cigarettes
17 April 2020, 2:33 PM

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

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.

INFOGRAPHIC: Number of COVID-19 infections and deaths:

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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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China says nearly 1 300 virus deaths not counted in Wuhan, cites early lapses
17 April 2020, 2:02 PM

Nearly 1 300 people who died of the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan, or half the total, were not counted in death tolls because of lapses, state media said on Friday, but Beijing dismissed claims that there had been any kind of cover-up.

The central city where the outbreak emerged late last year added 1 290 more fatalities to the 2 579 previously counted as of Thursday, reflecting incorrect reporting, delays and omissions, according to a local government task force in charge of controlling the coronavirus.

Reflecting the additional deaths in Wuhan, China revised its national death toll later on Friday up to 4 632.

The revision follows widespread speculation that Wuhan’s death toll was significantly higher than reported.

Rumours of more victims were fuelled for weeks by pictures of long queues of family members waiting to collect ashes of cremated relatives and reports of thousands of urns stacked at a funeral home waiting to be filled.

“In the early stage, due to limited hospital capacity and the shortage of medical staff, a few medical institutions failed to connect with local disease control and prevention systems in a timely manner, which resulted in delayed reporting of confirmed cases and some failures to count patients accurately,” state media cited an unidentified Wuhan official as saying.

Suspicion that China has not been transparent about the outbreak has risen in recent days as death tolls mount in many countries, including the United States, with President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressing scepticism about China’s previously declared death figure of about 3 000.

“Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China, and that they have a certain number of cases and a certain number of deaths; does anybody really believe that?” he said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday that while there might have been data collection flaws earlier during the outbreak, China has “a responsibility to history, to the people and to the deceased” to ensure numbers are accurate.

“Medical workers at some facilities might have been preoccupied with saving lives and there existed delayed reporting, underreporting or misreporting, but there has never been any cover-up and we do not allow cover-ups,” he said.

Wuhan’s total number of cases was revised up by 325, suggesting that some of the new deaths had been recorded as cases but not confirmed as fatalities, taking the total number of cases in the city of 11 million people to 50 333, or about 60% of mainland China’s total.

The topic “Wuhan revises its death toll” was one of the most read on China’s Weibo microblogging platform, which is heavily moderated.

Many commentators praised the government for admitting its mistakes and correcting them, although some still questioned the numbers and one urged other provinces to reassess their data.

Doctors and government officials in Wuhan have been repeatedly questioned about the accuracy of the death toll by journalists on government-arranged trips.

CHAOTIC EARLY DAYS

Some of those officials acknowledged that people may have died without being counted in the chaotic early days of the outbreak, before testing was widely available.

“There couldn’t have been many because that was a very short period,” Wang Xinghuan, head of one of two field hospitals built for the outbreak, told reporters in Wuhan on April 12. He stressed that he was not speaking for the government.

It is not unusual in epidemics for case and fatality numbers to be revised after authorities carry out retrospective re-testing or reclassify the cause of infection or death.

The Spanish region of Catalonia on Wednesday announced an additional 3,242 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, nearly doubling its previous tally, citing a change in methodology to include data from funerary services on suspected and confirmed COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and private homes.

Before the revised Wuhan numbers were released, China said it had recorded 26 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, down from 46 cases a day earlier, according to the National Health Commission.

It brought the total number of cases in mainland China to 82 367.

Of the new cases, 15 were imported infections, the lowest since March 17. The remaining 11 confirmed cases were locally transmitted, down from 12 a day earlier. The number of new asymptomatic cases increased to 66 from 64 a day earlier.

China does not include patients with no clinical symptoms such as a cough or a fever in its tally of confirmed cases.

No new deaths were reported.

Sebastian Vettel
Vettel takes step towards world of virtual racing
17 April 2020, 1:55 PM

Sebastian Vettel has never been one for social media or had much time for esports but even the four-times world champion has shifted his stance, however slightly, under Formula One’s coronavirus lockdown.

Although the 32-year-old Ferrari driver is still not remotely tempted by Twitter or Instagram, he has acquired a gaming rig. Just how much the German uses it remains to be seen.

Rivals, including his Monegasque team mate Charles Leclerc, who has thrown himself enthusiastically into virtual racing in the absence of any real life track action, can probably rest easy though.

“The truth is I didn’t have a simulator until a couple of days ago so I have not been tempted because I didn’t have the chance,” Vettel told reporters when asked in an online media session about any interest in esports.

“I have heard a lot of things about so I thought I might get one and try it, but I need to still set it up properly,” he added.

Leclerc, a two-times winner last season who also finished ahead of Vettel in the standings, won the virtual Vietnamese Grand Prix this month on his debut in the new Formula One esports race series.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon, McLaren’s Lando Norris, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and the Williams pairing of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi have also kept their hands in online as they wait for the season to start.

Seven Formula One races have been postponed so far and organisers are talking of a reduced calendar possibly running into January.

“Generally I’m not going to foresee a career in sim racing,” said Vettel.

“I think it’s more something to try for fun. I grew up with some of the stuff and I’ve been playing some games but to be honest since I had kids it’s not the first thing on my list to do,” added the father of three.

“I’m aware that some people take it very seriously and spend a lot of time there but I also enjoy doing other things.”

Vettel and former team mate Kimi Raikkonen, now with Alfa Romeo and the oldest driver on the grid at 40, are similar in that they both live in Switzerland and guard their privacy closely.

The Ferrari driver made clear he was not about to develop a Twitter following.

“I have not progressed on social media,” he said. “I didn’t have the time. It’s something I never started so it doesn’t feel like I miss it.”

Help police and SANDF protect lives: Williams
14 April 2020, 4:50 PM

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID 19) a global pandemic. South Africa as part of the global community, has taken decisive actions such as travel bans, quarantine rules, social distancing and lockdowns.  All these are an attempt to contain the disease.   We are informed there is no cure yet for this virus.

Police and other law enforcement agencies including the supporting role of the South African National Defence (SANDF) were brought in after the President announced the 21 days lockdown from the 27 March 2020.   This has subsequently been extended by another two weeks.

During this period the law enforcement agencies played an instrumental role in keeping South Africans safe and prevent the spread of the virus. A number of regulations were gazetted to guide on how we conduct ourselves during the lockdown period.

A number of South Africans heeded the call to stay at home so as to prevent the spread of the disease.  Only a few continued to deliberately undermine the nation’s resolve to stop the spread of the virus in our communities.  The regulations gazetted provides the law enforcement agencies with a mechanism to arrest those that violate the lockdown.  They do not provide any law enforcement agencies a right to violate our constitution that protects its citizens.

At the start of the lockdown, there was a high number of people arrested for violating the lockdown regulations. By 31 March 2020 Minister of Police Bheki Cele reported that police arrested about 17 000 people across the country.

Reports were also received of heavy-handed measures applied by the law enforcement agencies on the ground, whilst enforcing the lockdown regulations.   The government came out strongly to condemn the use of any acts that are not respecting the rights and dignity of everyone in the country.

South Africa is a constitutional democracy and expects the conduct of all its officers to be in line with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996). Government would not hesitate to investigate any acts that undermine the rights of its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution.

All allegations of human rights abuse are taken very seriously. Oversight responsibilities are in place to detect and take action where there is a need. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) is the structure that is responsible to investigate allegations of any unlawful conduct by law enforcement officers.

During this lockdown period, some reports have suggested that the police killed eight people. This is far from the truth, most of the incidents that were reported to IPID during this period, had nothing to do with alleged heavy handedness of the police enforcing the lockdown.

We are aware of  a private security company that shot a person in Vosloorus while in another incident a girlfriend was shot by her boyfriend who is a Police officer over allegations of infidelity. Both of these incidents are being investigated and have nothing to do with police brutality while enforcing lockdown.

Overall, our security forces including the SANDF deserve praise on how they are executing the task assigned to them by their Command in Chief, President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa.  The men and women in uniform have been on the frontlines of this fight. They have had to face the frustration of unhappy individuals and communities, but overall they have executed their task professionally.

We remain truly inspired by those who went beyond the call to not only enforce regulations but also help assist the elderly and people with disabilities. The sight of security forces assisting people during the social grant payment cycle will live long in our memory.

As the lockdown progressed, there has been a drop in the number of complaints against the police as more citizens began to comply and understand the importance of adhering to the regulations.

For this lockdown to be a success in containing the spread of the virus, it is not only police or SANDF that must act in accordance with the law.

We must all play our part by ensuring that we abide by the regulations to stay at home, practice social distance, self-isolate and leave our houses only if we have a valid reason for doing so.

Law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from the enforcement of lockdown regulations. These measures are aimed at combating the virus and ensuring that all South Africans are and feel safe.  We are encouraged by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s report that the lockdown is definitely yielding positive results.

Our law enforcement agencies including the SANDF will continue to uphold the rule of law and maintain stability in partnership with communities they serve. Working in partnership, we can ensure that we reduce the number of people who get infected and save lives.  As part of the global community, we also continue to respond to the World Health Organisation’s call to countries to fight the spread of the disease.

 Phumla Williams, Acting Director-General at GCIS.

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