421,996 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa as deaths climb to 6,343

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has announced that there are now a total of 421,996 cases of coronavirus in South Africa.

This is an increase of 13,944 cases from the 408,052 infections reported on Thursday.

The data shows that there are 250 new Covid-19 related deaths, taking the total to 6,343 casualties, with a 24-hour high of 572 deaths reported on Wednesday evening.

Dr Mkhize pointed to 245,771 recoveries to date. A total of 2.68 million tests have been conducted, with 52,382 tests conducted over the past 24 hours, the minister said.

Since 31 December 2019 and as of 24 July 2020, approximately 15.7 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported, including approximately 637,000 deaths, and around 9.6 million recoveries.

A German foundation has published a study that shows that specially trained dogs can identify patients infected with the coronavirus, Bloomberg reported.

The dogs need only a week’s training and could be deployed to detect infections at places such as airports, border crossings and sporting events, according to the Stiftung Tieraerztliche Hochschule Hannover.

Eight dogs from Germany’s armed forces took part in the study and had a success rate of 94%, the foundation said.

Changes to the Loan Guarantee Scheme

Finance minister Tito Mboweni says the National Treasury has made changes to the Loan Guarantee Scheme to make it easier for businesses to apply for business restart loans.

The minister said this when he addressed the National Assembly virtual plenary session on Thursday.

The R200 billion Loan Guarantee Scheme was announced as part of a Covid-19 relief package when lockdown started.

The scheme is aimed at providing a lending hand in a form government-guaranteed loans to small businesses with a turnover of less than R300 million to cover their operational expenses such as salaries, rent and utilities.

Mboweni said the Loan Guarantee Scheme has already provided over R11 billion to qualifying businesses.

“As we gradually open the economy, we expect more lending to take place as businesses retool themselves to restart and adapt.

“We have made changes to the scheme, effective from today [Thursday]. This includes business restart loans, aligning the credit assessment criteria, increasing the length of the loan drawdown and repayment period, and relaxing the credit risk criteria, South African Reserve Bank and the Banking Association,” he said.

The Minister added that further details would be posted on the National Treasury website.

This comes after government initiated a wide-ranging relief package to manage the immediate impact of the virus in March this year.

The initiatives involve scaling up capacity in the public health system and mitigating the effects of restricted economic activity for households and businesses.

“Concurrently, the South African Reserve Bank has reduced interest rates and provided support to the bond market, while indicating that it is prepared to take additional action as required.”

Efforts to tackle ballooning debt

As South Africa awaits the outcome of the $4.2 billion Covid-19 loan from the International Monetary Fund, the Minister said National Treasury was hard at work to stabilise public debt.

As set out in the Supplementary Budget, the gross borrowing requirement has increased to R776.9 billion, with the gross national government debt is projected to increase to R3.97 trillion (or 81.8% of GDP) in in the current year.

“Underpinning all of this, sound finances are critical for our country. The team at the National Treasury is working tirelessly to deal with our ballooning public debt. Even as South Africa responds to the current health and economic crises, a fiscal reckoning looms.

“The public finances are dangerously overstretched. Without urgent action in the 2021 budget process, a debt crisis will follow,” said Mboweni.

The minister said failure to contain debt, the budget deficit and debt-service costs will damage the country’s long-term economic prospects.

Read: Government pushes ahead with plans for new universal income grant

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