Covid-19 Roundup | Income relief and herbal remedies

South Africa is having to adjust weekly. State grant issues cause upheaval, an update on athletes and artists who applied for financial help and a Madagascan herbal remedy will be subject to scientific study.

This week, South Africans received an update of relief plans for the sport, art and culture sector; a multinational cigarette manufacturer withdrew its legal action against the government; social grant payment glitches left 450 000 old-age grant recipients high and dry; and South Africa plans to help Madagascar with the scientific analysis of a herbal Covid-19 “remedy”. 

Sports, arts and culture

Different government departments have been holding briefings to explain their Covid-19 relief plans. On Monday 4 May, it was the turn of Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa to explain how a R150 million relief fund is being used to assist distressed athletes, artists and technical personnel financially. 

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Mthethwa explained that the department had appointed two independent adjudicating panels for sports and culture to determine which applicants qualify to benefit from the fund. He said that although there were many applications, the panels did not end up recommending a large number of them. The department also revealed that successful applicants will not get more than R20 000.   

“We are concerned that a huge number of people did not succeed,” Mthethwa said. He added that the largest number of unsuccessful applicants came from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. “It’s people who desperately need this assistance. At the same time, we need to do due diligence to ensure that we adhere to the criteria which has been agreed upon.” 

Tobacco

When Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma announced the decision taken by the National Coronavirus Command Council to ban the selling of cigarettes and tobacco products nationwide, a barrage of criticism as well as legal threats followed. 

The world’s second-largest cigarette manufacturing company, British American Tobacco, threatened to take the government to court about the decision, saying it was unreasonable.

On Wednesday 6 May, the company announced that it would no longer pursue legal action following a response from the government. Instead, it said, it would “pursue further discussion with the government on the formulation and application of the regulations under the Covid-19 lockdown”.

Social grants

The beneficiaries of social grants from the state again endured long queues to collect their money. However, “technical” problems with payments affected old-age grant recipients, with some in the Western Cape being paid double and 450 000 in KwaZulu-Natal not being paid at all.

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“As a short-term measure, the South African Post Office will be doing manual payments to decrease the impact of the problem in affected areas,” the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) said. “Sassa has also roped in BankServ to assist with speeding up the process of crediting the affected accounts,” the agency added. 

Remedy

The Madagascan government has asked the South African Department of Health to assist with the scientific analysis of a herbal remedy said to fight Covid-19.

The remedy is made from artemisia, a plant used to treat flu-related illnesses and malaria, and has been promoted by President Andry Rajoelina as a cure for Covid-19. 

While receiving donations of personal protective equipment at a hospital in Rustenburg in North West province on Wednesday, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize said the government had agreed to assist only with the analysis of the herb. 

“We’ve said that our scientific research institutions would be willing to support a [scientific] analysis. We’ve also said that we will always be on the lookout if there’s new information about it,” he said.

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