When the pandemic ends, those unlawful mandates are going to haunt us

THERE has been a plethora of verbiage on the subject of ‘vaccine mandates’ over the past weeks. Several pieces written by legal academics and health scholars all present these measures as a fait accompli, and worse, present public health policy as if the extraordinary measures contemplated do not require anything resembling rational debate inside our nation’s democratic institutions.

Mandates are usually associated with elections and the resulting laws and policies are ordinarily drafted by parliament. Instead public health activism has adopted the fever pitch of the imperative, the unquestioning injunction and ever-present directive. What passes for debate these days, usually 5-minute opinion provided by so-called expert ‘talking heads’ on television followed by equally vapid ‘vox pops’ from the public with absolutely no balance provided by presenters, is leading the country assuredly down the road of internal passports and vaccine score cards.

As I have already written, this country has an egregious history when it comes to internal passports, in particular the aparthied era dompas, not to mention a troubled past — one haunted by the evil doctoring and medical experimentation of the likes of Dr Verwoerd et al. All the more reason to tread carefully lest we forget the lessons of the past and ignore the imperatives enshrined in our constitution?

Instead a paid-for-promotion by Investec, boldly claims without providing any citations: “Unvaccinated people are driving up the chances of mutation, creating more opportunities for the Covid-19 virus to bypass the immune system. The more people who are vaccinated, the closer we will get to a point of containment like we have with the flu.”

The same piece is remarkable for its failure to disclose the banking group’s considerable investment in Aspen Pharmacare, and instead presents an Aspen Senior Executive, Dr Stavros Nicolaou as an expert in the field of epidemiology. Then Professor WD François Venter of the Wits Centre for Reproductive Health is presented as an expert on virology. The webinar is a far cry from a national science symposium on the subject and a long way away from resembling anything like a colloquium or conference.

At the same time as these paid promotions, other health propaganda pieces are published in the media.

One by Safura Abdool Karim of the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism falsely claims “South Africa’s laws allow for the government to implement mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations but these mandates won’t necessarily infringe on individual rights.” Then proceeds to jump the gun in claiming “under the Notifiable Medical Conditions Regulations, a healthcare provider would be allowed to administer a vaccine even if a person refuses to accept it.”

While the National Health Act of 61 of 2003 certainly allows for the quarantining of individuals suspected of being infected with a notifiable disease, (and Covid-19 is a notifiable disease according to regulations), the act does not provide for mandatory vaccination as such, nor does it define vaccination nor even provide a relevant immunisation section. The astonishingly brazen claims made by Karim, instead appear to refer to draft regulations which have yet to be promulgated, and thus an as yet unfinalised government vaccine mandate policy — a policy which remains moot, and which is already the subject of a legal challenge by a religious group.

It is worth considering first principles and discussing what exactly we are dealing with here.

A piece ‘comparing SARS-CoV-2 with SARS-CoV and influenza pandemic’ published in the Lancet in September 2020, may be considered required reading:

Koeberg has a 65 different isotope emissions problem

KOEBERG like many Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) nuclear plants, produces emissions of radioactive isotopes. The resulting ‘effluent’ is routinely released into the environment where it makes its way into the food chain. Annual allowable emissions known as the ‘Annual Authorised Discharge Quantity’ are all authorised by the Department of Energy. In some instances emissions have included unwanted radionuclides, breaching minimum emissions standards. The department monitors ‘some sixty-five radioisotopes found or expected to be found in Koeberg “effluent”

Tritium, a radioisotope of Hydrogen with a half-life of 12.3 years, is relatively abundant within the plant. According to the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA): “The greatest source of radioactivity in the reactor coolant circuit is, however, irradiation of the coolant itself. Neutron bombardment of nitrogen dissolved in the water gives rise to carbon-14. Moreover, irradiation of boron dissolved in the coolant water creates hydrogen-3, i.e. tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen.”

NIASA boldly claims: “Even if all were discharged at the maximum (AADQ) allowed, and in the impossible event that the critical paths for all the isotopes in the liquid and gaseous effluent irradiate the same local resident, that individual would still receive less than the permitted 0.25 millisievert per year.”

The association further claims “Caesium-137 and sometimes strontium-90 are detected at levels consistent with the background attributable to global nuclear weapons testing largely in the 1960s”.

This contradicts their own findings and studies conducted by independent environmental professionals which have detected long-lived fission products such as the radioisotopes iodine-131 and caesium-137 in plant and sea-life around the installation. Both isotopes do not occur naturally and are produced as a byproduct of nuclear fission. Iodine-131 in particular is a result of fission not weapons testing, and the prevalence of these particles around the plant and not the rest of the country raises questions.

In 2010, 91 workers were contaminated with radioactive Cobalt-58. According to NIASA: “radioisotopes such as cobalt-58, cobalt-60 and silver-110m arise as a result of wear or corrosion of reactor components. They become radioactive due to neutron bombardment as they circulate through the reactor with the primary circuit cooling water.”

These radionuclides are not fission products as such, since the plant was not designed to produce them, and should rather be termed contaminants.

Radionuclides, due to their instability produce radioactivity, resulting in alpha, beta and gamma particle emission. High-energy beta particles disrupt molecules in cells and deposits energy in tissues, causing damage.

The presence of Cobalt radionuclides is particularly concerning since it points to issues which may require the decommissioning of the plant. Cobalt-58 for instance is achieved by irradiation of Nickel, and thus points to the breakdown of stainless steel components within the plant due to increased radiation levels. The decision to extend the life of the plant which was commissioned in 1984 appears to have been made on the basis of a ‘business case’, and not a scope of plant safety issues moving forward.

NIASA explains the effluent and contaminants from the plant: “The radioisotopes in the Koeberg effluent are of two types, fission products and activation products. Traces of uranium (‘tramp’ uranium) may remain on the outside of new nuclear fuel assemblies on arrival at the power station. Moreover, minute leaks may develop in the fuel in the course of operation. Both sources may contribute to fission product isotopes in the reactor cooling water, particularly the more mobile radioisotopes iodine-131 and caesium-137.”

As argued by Koeberg Alert, these fission products bio-accumulate up the food chain, via our wheat, shellfish and dairy. While iodine-131 collects in the thyroid gland, caesium-137 is bone-seeking, (it loves calcium) and may end up in the bone marrow. Eskom disclaims any responsibility for increases in leukaemia and blood cancers caused by exposure to low-dose, long-term emissions from the plant. In addition NIASA fails to explain the cumulative impact of emissions of long-lived radionuclides and appears to operate under the false assumption that every year represents a clean slate.

Half-life is the interval of time required for one-half of the atomic nuclei of a radioactive sample to decay. Thus after that interval, a sample originally containing 8 g of cobalt-60 would contain only 4 g of cobalt-60 and would emit only half as much radiation. After another interval of 5.26 years, the sample would contain only 2 g of cobalt-60 and so on.

The annual allowable emissions from the plant are reported to have been scheduled upwards by the Minister, in order to accommodate Koeberg plant emissions and exceed European Safety Standards.

Here is information on some of the 65 radioisotopes associated with Koeberg and acknowledged by the Nuclear regulator.

Theranos of the Nuclear Industry

THE WORLD has its fair share of prospective ‘revolutionary ideas’, objectives that have failed to pan out. Not for lack of trying, nor because a notion isn’t any good on paper but rather the expression of a thought may not be based upon sound physics, or could be missing a vital technological breakthrough or component. In the case of Theranos, the idea of a portable blood analysis machine was surely innovative, but the underlying technology did not exist and the project failed to deliver. The result is a fraud case involving over-sell — under-performance, gross deception and astonishingly optimistic claims by one Elizabeth Holmes.

Similarly in 2007 the Department of Environmental Affairs held a parliamentary inquiry into the nuclear industry, in particular the much vaunted Pebble-Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) programme whose technology was essentially borrowed from Germany. As it turned out the programme was fundamentally flawed, and was deemed unsafe by the Germany government following a pebble bed reactor accident at Hamm-Uentrop.(1)

At this stage some R10bn had already been spent without so much as a working reactor. Submissions by civil society organisations Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, provided engineering analysis of why Germany had dropped the thorium-uranium programme, in part due to the ‘tendency of the pebble fuel to disintegrate’. Other serious issues included problems of safety, lack of containment, waste fission products and a host of other technical issues.

This didn’t dissuade South Africa’s nuclear industry. Though government input into the programme seemingly ended with Minister Barbara Hogan cancelling further funds, the PBMR took on a new life under Kelvin Kemm, who began touting a gas-cooled version called High Temperature Modular Reactor (HTMR) produced by his own company Nuclear Africa, along with a supposedly ‘new fuel’.

Billions of rands of governmental spend was thus, for all intents and purposes, simply transferred to Nuclear Africa, under the auspice of Kemm who was then chair of NECSA in order to further acomplex prestige project, one which readily leads to economic dependency (see below).

Steenkampskraal Thorium Limited (STL) is a subsidiary company ‘in the business of developing and commercialising thorium as a clean safe energy source for the future.” The STL company site however professes “The primary goal of the HTR fuel development programme at STL is to produce fuel spheres containing uranium for irradiation testing in the short term, thorium/uranium in the medium term as well as thorium and plutonium in the long-term.”

Enter the X Factor, Yet Another Fuel

Meanwhile Eben Mulder and Martin van Staden announced their company X-energy was using a new modular reactor design alongside a brand new fuel. “X-energy has developed the compact Xe-100 reactor, which delivers 80MW of electricity and is about the size of an elevator shaft in a four-storey building,”. They further claim, “the US military has also signed a contract with the company in March to deliver its Xe-Mobile reactors”.

While Kemm’s project certainly has some merit in its purported use of presumably thorium instead of uranium, but certainly fails when it comes to the economics of producing Thorium Dioxide (see below) the X-energy project insists it has developed an advanced new nuclear fuel known as “Triso-X”.

Triso-X appears to be nothing more than a complex “tri-structural isotropic (TRISO) particle fuel” already developed within the nuclear industry. The company thus also claims somewhat disingenuously: “We manufacture our own proprietary version (TRISO-X) to ensure supply and quality control.”

If the claims are to be believed, TRISO fuel may significantly alter the burnup rate of fission products and change the melting of fuel within reactors. It is claimed to “double the previous mark set by the Germans in the 1980s” and thus is ‘three times the burnup that current light-water fuels can achieve—demonstrating its long-life capability.”     

According to pundits “TRISO particles cannot melt in a reactor and can withstand extreme temperatures that are well beyond the threshold of current nuclear fuels.”

A 2020 Nuclear Industry Journal article on ‘Uranium nitride tristructural-isotropic fuel particle’, demonstrates “testing of a novel coated fuel particle, uranium nitride tristructural-isotropic fuel” and claims “this fuel particle offers significantly higher uranium density over historic manifestations of coated fuel particles and may be more optimal for a range of advanced reactor applications”

There is however no consensus in the industry on the resulting fission products produced by the TRISO process impacting upon health and safety, nor the longevity of the fuel. One can only suggest that many of the objections to the latest Thorium-Uranium project, also apply. In fact many of the claims made by X-energy, beg the question, why Thorium?

You’re living in the wrong country Mr Cheadle

SOUTH AFRICA’S corrupt legal authority Halton Cheadle is at it again. Readers may remember the erstwhile ‘labour czar’, a man who in 2010 sought to determine a labour court decision in favour of his own client and business associates, in the process shooting down the TRC Report and inter alia altering this writer’s religious affiliation to conform to an absurd decision, one inverting the very facts of apartheid.

Cheadle, who is no longer a director at the law firm bearing his own name, appears to believe article 12 of our constitution is no major impediment to vaccine mandates. Article 12 guarantees the ‘right to bodily and psychological integrity’, which includes the ‘right to security in and control over the body’; and the right ‘not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without informed consent’.

In an interview broadcast on eTV last night, Cheadle made out a case for vaccine mandates which boil down to a resort to his own authority, or what is commonly referred to by scholars as an ‘argumentum ad verecundiam,‘ i.e. a form of fallacy in which the opinion of an authority on a topic is used as evidence to support an argument.

In support of his assertions which boil down to changing the democratic character of our democracy in favour of a totalitarian state, Cheadle then trots out the well-worn argument that vaccines have been ‘effective in countering smallpox, polio and diphtheria’. All good and well, until one arrives at involuntary vaccination.

In the interview, he appeared anxious to meet any religious objections.

Cheadle should know that the only case precedent in favour of mandatory health interventions apply to prisoners and state patients, and Medialternatives has covered similar ‘rubbish posing as legal opinion’ in the public domain and put forward by one Pierre de Vos ( please read my response).

De Vos is known to often resort to a common fallacy namely obscurum per obscurius or ‘rendering the obscure more obscure by reference to obscurity’.

While de Vos avoids examining the evidence for universal vaccination and Cheadle appears to be reading CDC newsbriefs alongside Glenda Grey (see my follow up post), both scholars have not bothered to record, nor deem it fit to tackle legitimate public and human rights concerns.

For instance concerns articulated by demonstrators over the weekend regarding both the efficacy of current vaccines and the long term effects and safety of mRNA dosing.

For the record, I have vaccinated with the Pfizer jab, am in favour of vaccination and immunisation as a form of positive discrimination in labour law but draw the line when it comes to removing patient consent.

South Africa has an egregious and tragic history of involuntary psychiatric treatment of political dissidents, torture as treatment, forced gender re-assignment, and medical experimentation and sterilisation programmes aimed at reducing the black population.

Cheadle is an embarrassment to both UCT and all the victims and survivors of apartheid.

He certainly should not be practising law, let alone making pronouncements on eTV that seek to strip citizens of individual and personal autonomy, not to mention human agency.

There is no vaccine for climate change

CLIMATE SCIENTISTS have begun talking about a strategic ‘managed retreat’ as a response to climate change. This retreat they say is not an admission of defeat, but rather entails “a coordinated movement of people and buildings away from risks, which, in the context of climate change, are approaching from numerous fronts, including sea level rise, flooding, extreme heat, wildfire, and other hazards.”

NASA is warning of a growing energy imbalance caused by incoming radiation trapped by greenhouse gas.

This energy imbalance is “the most fundamental metric defining the status of global climate change,” according to a Nature Climate Change article. “Everything else about global climate change” writes Chelsea Harvey—including the warming of the planet—”is a symptom the mismatch of energy in versus energy out.”

New research published in Geophysical Research Letters finds the energy imbalance approximately doubled between 2005 and 2019.

Since I’ve written extensively on environmental issues since the late 80s, when I became one of the founders of our local environmental justice movement, I believe that I may state the following without having to fend off denialists, who label my writing ‘fringe’ and ‘crackpot conspiracy’.

When we talk about a ‘just transition’, we should remember there can be no justice if we are entering a major extinction event, that may include the extinction of human beings, that’s us, within decades. As Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace puts it, “I wake up with a nightmare“.

Many scientists and activists believe it already too late to do anything practical about the looming climate disaster, we are locked in, they say, to mitigation and adaptation strategies that will of necessity include a staged retreat.

A similar question is posed by the “Deep Adaptation” movement. Its guru, writes Simon Kuper in the Financial Times, “gets criticised for overstating the risk of “near-term societal collapse”. But the truth is most of us probably underestimate it.”

One need go no further than the 1 degree change in temperature of the Southern Ocean over the previous decade (reported to the special Parliamentary Session on Climate Change in the run-up to COP17), to understand the dire consequences of the release of tonnes of methane hydrates sitting on the bottom of the ocean, creating an unstoppable feedback loop in our climate systems.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, finds that beneath the surface layer of waters circling Antarctica, the seas are warming much more rapidly than previously known. Furthermore, the study concludes, this relatively warm water is rising toward the surface over time, at a rate three to 10 times what was previously estimated.

Tackle Historical Carbon Emissions

Climate change results from the cumulative buildup of GHGs in the atmosphere over time, not emissions in any particular year.

This is why we must urgently tackle our nation’s historical carbon emissions if we are to have any hope of success in reversing the damage. This means offsetting carbon that has already been released into the atmosphere, and doing it the right way, not simply by cooking the books.

Companies such as Microsoft for instance, have already embarked upon decarbonisation plans. The company will not only be carbon negative by 2030 but plans to erase its historical carbon footprint, capturing an amount of carbon equivalent to what it calculates is all of the carbon it has emitted since it was founded in 1975.

South African corporates have been slow to step up to the challenge. Two of the biggest GHG contributors over the past century have been and continue to be Sasol and Eskom — both represent GHG hotspots from outer space.

The Carbon Majors Project is an example of correct quantification of fossil fuel companies’ historical emissions.

Arctic heatwaves, melting permafrost, and Canadian fires do not make for great headlines. The retreat of our civilisation and end of democracy as the Earth becomes less habitable, may just do the trick.

Instead of accepting ministerial lip-service and cowtowing to markets, in effect negotiating our way into 2 degree plus climate change, we should be discussing drastic GHG reductions and urgent decarbonisation. Reductions not simply towards parity — neutrality or zero future carbon emissions, presumably offset on a 1:1 basis –, but actions to tackle historical offsets, at very least on a 1:3 basis or 1:5 basis.

In other words, a carbon negative strategy, for every 1 tonne of CO2 we produce, South Africa should offset by at very least 3 tonnes, reducing our emissions by an order of magnitude. In this way, instead of a ‘staged retreat of civilisation’, we might accomplish a GHG retreat, even a reset of the ‘energy imbalance’, thus stalling the need for solar shielding interventions and other untested technology.

Despite all the data pointing towards a worst case scenario, South Africa remains trapped in a tedious political debate surrounding a ‘just transition to renewable energy’, as the government drags its heels with a phased approach to the introduction of a carbon tax whose mitigation offsets are not immediately clear.

The country has yet to quantify its historical contribution to global GHG, and the project of auditing represents a challenge to researchers and mathematicians.

Then again, the country has yet to introduce any incentives for the manufacture of electric vehicles and is locked into the internal combustion engine. Many of the plans for the so-called Special Economic Zones, are centred around coal and mineral resource extraction.

What is clear, is the resulting energy imbalance from our country’s GHG contribution is steadily shifting our climate towards a catastrophic collapse of the holocene period. A geological measurement which has defined human habitat for millennia.

As a banner unfurled at Ascot on Sunday reads: We are racing to extinction. And along with it, the extinction of our own democratic freedom struggle.

Questions need to be asked

Is the promise of carbon offsets just another political vaccine, a stratagem to dampen activism without delivering the goods?

How do we know the carbon tax money is not being used on fruitless and wasteful expenditure?

How can we trust the result will not end up before yet another Zondo Commission?

Readers need to urgently question the assumptions made by our government, and especially the whereabouts of an independent monitoring mechanism, one that would need to monitor our nation’s contribution to GHG offsets. Reporting to parliament without delay.

Published in Green Times

We will be lucky if we vaccinate 2% of our population

GIVEN the slow pace at which South Africa’s mass vaccination campaign has been rolled out — as yet, not one confirmed public vaccination has been administered — claims by government that 10% of the population, including the vulnerable and front-line workers will receive the jab, must be met with a good degree of scepticism.

We will be lucky if we manage to vaccinate some 2% of our citizens over the coming six months, that’s 1 140 000 or just over 1 million individuals. The recent comments made by the Chief Justice may have already torpedoed the public Covax Initiative.

In the week in which a new more virulent local variant of the virus was announced by Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, with its origin in Nelson Mandela Bay, the country finally paid over its contribution to the UN programme, yet another example of what Dr Carl Venter terms a ‘poor handling of the crisis’.

Health activists had thus already expressed concern that South Africa had missed the deadline, and all this while images of the West’s immunisation campaign already under way were being streamed over our television screens, a local wait-and-see approach if any.

Meanwhile the health system in several provinces was under severe pressure, with no plans in sight to alleviate the lack of oxygen, PPE and high care facilities over the New Year period. Local press appeared unable to present the problematic second wave and our failing vaccination programme in any frame except, ‘we’ve been here already, and don’t want another hard lock-down’.

Readers would have had to find information on the collapse of health care services and lack of critical care in Nelson Mandela Bay, not from the local press, but rather from the New York Times, whose Sheri Fink reported this week on a tragedy unfolding in Port Elizabeth, and thus a troubling lack of credible information from local media houses.

A situation of self-censorship which has its echo in previous fumbling by the Mbeki administration over ARVs and the earlier Botha regime which suppressed news about the SADF invasion of Angola and death toll at Cuito Cuanavale?

While government was announcing it had identified the 501.V2 Variant, Minister Mkhize was thus bizarrely playing down the implications of a sudden shift in the epidemiological picture as the demure Prof Karim continued to spew forth scientific opinion with little impact on the reality and lives of health care workers.

“Clinicians, said Karim “have been providing anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture – in particular noting that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness,” he said.

If Fink’s observations as a journalist are mere anecdotes, then much of what passes for press commentary in the republic is a fraud.

Let her words below sink in, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe the virus isn’t any more deadly, it is rather, more pernicious and disruptive to our health sector:

“At the center of a terrifying coronavirus surge, 242 patients lay in row after row of beds under the soaring metal beams of a decommissioned Volkswagen factory.”

“Workers at the vast field hospital could provide oxygen and medications, but there were no I.C.U. beds, no ventilators, no working phones and just one physician on duty on a recent Sunday — Dr. Jessica Du Preez, in her second year of independent practice.”

“In a shed-like refrigerator behind a door marked “BODY HOLD,” carts contained the remains of three patients that morning. A funeral home had already picked up another body.”

“On rounds, Dr. Du Preez stopped at the bed of a 60-year-old patient, a grandmother and former college counselor. Her oxygen tube had detached while she was lying prone, but the nurses had so many patients they hadn’t noticed. Now, she was gone.”

That medics are having to prioritise who gets treatment while denying others, according to a score card, is a tragedy being repeated all around the world.

Revisiting Eskom Liberalisation and the Energy Commons

ALMOST a decade ago, I started openly talking about an Energy Commons yet plans mooted for splitting up Eskom remain stalled. One plan calls for splitting the parastatel into two units, another into three, but the price of electricity continues to outstrip inflation in leaps and bounds.

The basic idea behind all these proposals is to have Eskom become the main cable distributor of electricity, whilst various regional power utilities compete with each other to produce energy for clients, in an open market that allows competition.

One plan calls for Eskom to go the same way as Telkom, a listed JSE company that until recently maintained a monopoly over copper cable services, that have been supplanted by fibre-to-the-door.

An open energy system would certainly benefit the consumer and allow Independent Power Producers (IPP) to coexist whilst doing wonders for the price of electricity — introducing a range of services such as virtual metering and even leasing of home appliances, that currently do not exist.

But it is not just organised labour and union bureaucrats who are opposed to the opening up of an energy commons, with opposition from misguided ideologues who myopically fear that what they call ‘privatisation’ will mean less jobs. Municipalities and Metros currently earn revenue via the bulk sale of electricity from Eskom which is then routed to consumers, a pyramid scheme if ever there was one.

Not only is such a system uneconomical, but the costs are invariably borne by the poor, the real losers in a stalled economic environment. High electricity prices have been cited as one of the major factors effecting development.

Doctrinaire Socialist think-tanks such as Cape Town’s AIDC routinely produce media attacking energy liberalisation policies, a bugbear of the left, but without providing any evidence that opening up the energy economy will have adverse effects.

Take New Zealand for example, where 82% of energy supplied is renewable, one of the least CO2 producing nations on the planet — its electrical energy generation, previously state-owned as in most countries, ‘was corporatised, deregulated and partly sold off over the last two decades of the twentieth century, following a model typical in the Western world.’

However, much of the generation and retail sectors, as well as the entire transmission sector, remains under government ownership as state-owned enterprises.

An online article states: ‘The Fourth Labour Government corporatised the Electricity Division as a State Owned Enterprise in 1987, as the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand (ECNZ), which traded for a period as Electricorp. The Fourth National Government went further with the Energy Companies Act 1992, requiring ‘EPBs and MEDs’ to become commercial companies in charge of distribution and retailing.’

In 1994, ECNZ’s transmission business was split off as Transpower. In 1996, ECNZ was split again, with a new separate generation business, Contact Energy, being formed.

The Fourth National Government privatised Contact Energy in 1999. From 1 April 1999, the remainder of ECNZ was split again, with the major assets formed into three new state-owned enterprises (Mighty River Power (now Mercury Energy), Genesis Energy and Meridian Energy) and with the minor assets being sold off. At the same time, local power companies were required to separate distribution and retailing, with the retail side of the business sold off, mainly to generation companies.

The result is a plethora of choice where consumers are concerned, the same variety and quality of retail service we find in the world of Mobile Telephony and Internet Service Provision. A liberal energy policy is behind New Zealand’s economic success story.

There is no doubt that if Telkom had remained the sole provider of communication services in South Africa, we would have missed out on the startling technological developments experienced in this sector, instead the reverse has been true so far as energy policy is concerned.

Time to bring innovation and economics back to the energy game?

The far left’s tenuous grip on Covid-19 science

DR MBUYISENI  Ndlozi, a man with a PhD in Political Science from Wits is no expert on epidemics and virology. As a spokesperson for far-left opposition party, EFF, he is a regular guest on national television and a staunch opponent of any relaxation of the hard lockdown.

Like many popular commentators on Covid-19, including myself, Ndlozi was quick to compare the pandemic to the Spanish Flu of 1918. Just how wrong this comparison has turned out, can be seen by the fact that several pandemics have occurred since the Spanish flu, each with their own lesson for humanity.

In February 1957, a new influenza A (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia, triggering a pandemic (“Asian Flu”).

The Hong Kong flu (also known as 1968 flu pandemic) was a flu pandemic whose outbreak in 1968 and 1969 killed an estimated one million people all over the world. Woodstock occurred during the pandemic.

Nobody remembers these epidemics because there was no social media, no lock-downs and no cessation of economic activity. The world survived and only remembered the Spanish Flu epidemic from 1918.

“Should we be comparing Covid-19 to flu at all?” asks science journalist Laura Spinney. “The viruses that cause the flu and Covid-19 belong to two different families. Sars-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, belongs to the coronavirus family. And in that, there are greater similarities with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome, that originated in China in 2002) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome, which began in Saudi Arabia in 2012).”

“Unlike flu, which spreads rapidly and relatively evenly through a population, coronavirus tends to infect in clusters,”

Spinney writes. “In theory, that makes coronavirus outbreaks easier to contain, and indeed both SARS and MERS outbreaks were brought under control before they went global.”

Most importantly, she says, the world has changed a lot between 1918 and now.

“In 1918, a large number of people chose to follow what religious leaders were saying rather than heed the advice of health experts. For instance, in the Spanish city of Zamora, the local bishop defied the health authorities by ordering evening prayers on nine consecutive days in honour of Saint Rocco, the patron saint of plagues. Churchgoers lined up to kiss the saint’s relics. Zamora recorded the highest death rate in Spain, and one of the highest in Europe.”

Ferris Jabr of Scientific American, writing in Wired agrees and says:”Coverage of the coronavirus pandemic teems with monstrous and sometimes contradictory statistics.

“Among the most vexing figures flitting across our screens, and spreading via text and tweet, is the case fatality rate (CFR)—the proportion of known infections that result in death. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, World Health Organization officials announced an average CFR of 2 percent. Later on, they revised it up to 3.4 percent. In contrast, numerous epidemiologists have argued that the global case fatality rate is closer to 1 percent. These might seem like small differences, but when multiplied across large populations they translate to significant discrepancies in overall deaths.”

The novel coronavirus pandemic however remains “a major threat that demands a swift and robust response,” writes Jabr. “Even a fatality rate between 0.5 and 1 percent is extremely alarming in a world as populous and interconnected as ours. Another crucial consideration is the virus’s potential to induce severe illness that may not be fatal but lasts for weeks, straining hospital resources and potentially leaving some people with lifelong health issues.”

Ndlozi is therefore right to reiterate the initial concerns raised by persons such as myself, with regard to the virulence and infectiousness of the virus. Its rapid spread took everyone by surprise, and without sufficient controls many lives would have been lost. But he is just plain wrong to suggest without any evidence, that a blanket, hard lock-down applied to the entire country will provide any benefits moving forward.

South Africa has aggressively intervened to contain the epidemic. But it is far from clear which strategic outcome is being pursued. “Is it following the lead of countries such as New Zealand or South Korea and trying to stop virus transmission altogether until a suitable vaccine becomes available? Or is it attempting to manage the infection rates so that extreme peaks in morbidity are prevented? “asks Alex Van Den Heever et al.

The cost of embracing a zero-risk policy is more likely to lead to ‘untold economic misery’ for ordinary South Africans and will prove ultimately futile in areas where social distancing is unworkable, witness the long queues for food across several of our provinces.

Those living in lockdown in South Africa’s townships are bound to experience a double-burden of hardship, not only do they risk losing their jobs, but also family members to the disease. The control measures over the food supply have already backfired.

A recent panel discussion hosted by Francois Picard of France 24, The Debate, highlighted the different approach taken by Sweden which has balanced control measures while avoiding a hard lock-down thereby avoiding an economic situation that ‘nobody will be able to live with’.

So summarise some of the current epidemiological thinking on Covid-19, articulated by Nobel laureates, high achievers in the arena of science as opposed to political studies — in essence the pandemic ‘represents a few extra weeks of average deaths for our population’. A hard lock-down merely pushes these deaths ahead of us, without much benefit. In any event we will still experience waves of the disease moving forward.

Hard lock downs are not the solution. Other ways to control the virus must be found. They might include limiting access to certain districts, keeping entire Cities in one level while other parts of the country are allowed to open up. Fighting the virus wherever it flares up in hotspots but allowing life to continue where it has not.

Hunger must be seen as a determinant of health

YESTERDAYS looting of supermarkets in several South African townships, is unfortunately driven by hunger. These food riots are indicative of an alarming situation unfolding two and a half weeks into the hard lockdown. Gatesville, Manenburg, Tafelsig, Alexandra, are where low-income families have been forced into the lockdown without any tangible relief from government. Hunger must be seen as a determinant of health alongside the burden of disease.

Instead our government appears hellbent on implementing prescriptions driven by the WHO in Geneva. Solutions which may turnout to be wholly unsuited to conditions in emerging economies such as our own. The lockdown may be wrong for Africa.

It is doubtful whether or not the hard lockdown will accomplish any of the supposed objectives laid out by our Health Minister, and should rather be replaced by a smart lockdown, or soft lockdown as soon as possible. Despite experiencing a surge, Japan has implemented a soft lock-down, as have many countries fully aware that completely suppressing the virus risks the situation where one merely postpones and lengthens the epidemic.

According to chief scientist Prof Salim Karim, ‘South Africa will know on 18 April’ if the methodology utilised against the coronovirus is inaccurate or factually correct. The measures may have bought time for our health system to prepare for a coming surge, known as the ‘delayed exponential curve of infection’.

If mitigation measures  to curtail the spread of hunger, are not implemented immediately, the problem of mass starvation could dwarf the current epidemic and grow to haunt South Africans as we move forward during an unprecedented period of economic turmoil. Most households are only able to maintain a two-week supply of food. Without income or food parcels, the situation could quickly deteriorate to conditions seen during wartime, famine and natural disasters.

“Our problem is not that we don’t have enough food in South Africa. Our problem is that the food is only available to those who have cash” writes business strategist Marius Oosthuizen.

The closure of restaurants and hotels has perversely resulted in literal food mountains. Tonnes of produce is being destroyed around the world because of the global pandemic, while ordinary consumers are ironically forced to pay more for fresh produce.

Since 2011, three million more South Africans have been pushed below the poverty line, according to a study by the national data agency, Statistics South Africa. More than 30.4 million South Africans—55.5% of the population—live on less than 992 rand (about $75) per person per month. Yesterdays interest rate cut will assist middle-class households, but the problem remains that most households were already below the poverty line at the beginning of the lock-down.

Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina on Tuesday launched a food bank to provide relief to the poor during the Covid-19 outbreak. The same plan alongside further disaster relief is required in every Metro, town and city. School feeding schemes urgently need to be restored. Other relief measures that should be contemplated include once off emergency cash payments to each and every household.

Current relief packages rolled out by national government include  assistance to SMMEs, tax relief, Agricultural Aid, UIF, Health and other support services. More needs to be done if the lockdown continues. As an anonymous author from Iran writes, ‘the difference between barbarism and civilisation is a plate of food’.

It is imperative that food security be seen alongside the burden of disease, as a determinant of people’s health.

 

Getting out of lockdown may be essential to combating impact of the virus

THE LOCKDOWN was never meant to do anything more than buy us time to prepare. Time to allow the public health system to adjust, to stock-up on medication, to initiate testing and special counter-measures.

Unfortunately it appears that many South Africans and government officials are under the impression that the lock-down is some form of a cure-all. It is nothing of the sort. It cannot prevent the second and third wave of infections that will undoubtedly arrive come winter, and it cannot continue being extended if our economy and way of life is to survive.

Although a return to normal is not possible, and social distancing and other measures will be in place for a very long time, the cost of extending the lock-down must be weighed against the inevitable collapse in economic activity that will result. Given that for the majority of South Africans, adapting to a world where the only economic activities will be online jobs, is neither practical nor possible over the short term, nor is it readily apparent what unskilled labour is expected to do during the crisis?

Getting out of lock-down is essential to combat the impact of the virus upon the economy, on people’s lives and livelihoods, and to avoid the continued abuse of state power by the SANDF. Where those on the left including the ANC have supported the extension of the lockdown, it is only the opposition DA which has registered its dismay.

Many of the measures already in place have little scientific or health merit. Preventing people from playing in their yards, from jogging outdoors, or engaging in other activities such as drinking alcohol, that presumably might risk the spread of the virus, is not ideal. A zero tolerance approach to infection has consequences, chief of which is that unless the state can pay its citizens a basic income ,the possibility exists of mass starvation.

There is limited capacity within our country to simply go on dishing out food parcels, to place SMMEs on life support, to postpone bond and debt payments. This while rounding up the homeless, placing such persons in ‘temporary shelters’ that resemble concentration camps. The sheer density of many informal settlements has made such steps seem ludicrous.

One approach to the problem outlined by an Australian virologist, Professor Peter Collignon, is to gradually expose parts of the population to the virus. This controversial approach to developing immunity within the broader population has some merit and should not simply be discarded. In Sweden for example, where there has been no lock-down, admittedly within an excellent health care system, the mortality figures have not been all that different from those countries which have implemented lock-down practices.

In some respects the UK which early on adopted some of the measures in Sweden, before choosing a general lock-down, is an example of the counter-intuitive logic at play. The country at first sheltered the elderly and most vulnerable. Those dying today, would have died tomorrow, argue proponents, dead in future waves of the epidemic. Without a vaccine, the only option for so-called ‘herd immunity‘ is to control the rate of infection, to flatten the curve and stall the onset of the epidemic.

Faced with the prospect that a working vaccine may only be ready in September, in six months time, South Africa has an unenviable task, that of weighing up all the options, examining the case for and against an extension of the current five week lock-down.

published in part by Natal Mercury Letters