The Presiding Officers of Parliament have announced that given the current COVID-19 regulations, this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) will be different, with no red carpet, ceremonial guard and many other activities associated with the event.

Only 50 people will be allowed in the National Assembly chamber and while the President will address the joint sitting of Parliament physically in Parliament, most Members of Parliament, and some from other arms of the State and the diplomatic corps will follow proceedings virtually. 

Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said this on Wednesday when he read the statement of the Presiding Officers during a virtual press conference on Parliament’s readiness to host this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA). 

“The Presiding Officers of Parliament have received correspondence from the President of the Republic requesting a joint sitting and upon consultation, agreed to schedule the address on Thursday, February 11 at 19:00,” Mothapo said. 

In strict adherence to the National State of Disaster regulations, this year’s SONA will take the form of a hybrid joint sitting, with at least no more than 50 Members of Parliament, representatives from the Judiciary and the Executive in the physical chamber and the rest of this category connecting virtually.  

“Other categories that will virtually form part of this important event include Premiers, Speakers and other special delegates representing provinces in the National Council of Provinces, eminent persons, diplomatic corps, distinguished guests and members of the public.   

“Due to the limited number of persons permitted within the precinct of Parliament, and Parliament’s sensitivity to the prevailing conditions, various ceremonial aspects that usually characterise the SONA have been suspended. 

“In this regard, there will be no red carpet and procession of the three arms of the State; physical participation of the junior and civil guard of honour; eminent persons;  imbongi (praise singer); military parade that leads the presidential procession onto a saluting dais on the steps of the National Assembly; the guard of honour by the National Ceremonial Guard, and the 21-gun salute,” Mothapo said. 

The State of the Nation Address is called by the President in terms of Section 42(5) of the Constitution. It is a joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament – the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces – and one of the rare occasions that bring together the three arms of the State under one roof. 

Mothapo said SONA provides the President an opportunity to speak to the nation on the general state of South Africa, to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global contexts, to account to the nation on the work of government and to set out the programme of action for the coming year. 

Traditionally, the President makes key government announcements during this important joint sitting of Parliament. 

“Since late last year, Parliament has been preparing for SONA by engaging various stakeholders. SONA in its nature is a ceremonial joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, called specifically for only one item on the agenda, the President’s State of the Nation Address. The sitting is presided over jointly by the National Assembly Speaker and the National Council of Provinces Chairperson under the applicable joint rules of Parliament. 

“Where possible and appropriate, some of these traditional features shall take place virtually, in keeping with the significance and character of the Address.”

Mothapo said after the delivery of the State of the Nation Address on 11 February, the two Houses will again converge jointly in a hybrid platform to debate President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech over two days, 16 and 17 February.

The President will reply to the debate by Members of Parliament on 18 February.

“Due to the hybrid nature of this year’s SONA, the event will cost the most minimum of the budget envisagedwhich is R2.2 million. The significant savings expected will be redirected to modernising the technological capabilities of Parliament to enhance its constitutional functions of public participation, oversight and law-making.

“Due to the socio-economic hardships facing South Africans, Parliament had over the years scaled down on SONA and drastically cut its budget.”

The Presiding Officers emphasised that the full amount budgeted, may not be used, with the entire hybrid event, expected to cost much lower than the amount budgeted.  

“All the joint sittings on the President’s SONA, parliamentary debate on SONA and the President’s reply to the debate will be broadcast live both on radio and television, as well as streamed live on social media platforms, Parliamentary television and Parliament’s YouTube channels,” said Mothapo. – SAnews.gov.za

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SAHPRA approves Ivermectin for controlled human use

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has given the green light for the controlled use of Ivermectin for humans.

This comes after the authority earlier this month warned the public against the use of the drug, as it was not confirmed for COVID-19 infection management.

At the time, SAHPRA said this was because there was no available confirmatory data on Ivermectin for its use in the management of COVID-19 infections.

However, on Wednesday, during a virtual press briefing, SAHPRA chief executive (CEO), Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, said the authority would allow a controlled and compassionate programme for the use of the drug after embarking on extensive engagements with medical professionals. A guideline will be published shortly.

“We are in the second wave. We are seeing lives being lost and we have many medical practitioners that have reached out to us. We have considered all of that.

“The approach is that we will facilitate a controlled, compassionate access programme for Ivermectin,” she said.

Semete-Makokotlela said, however, this does not mean that the authority’s position on the matter has changed.  

“Our position [does not] change around the availability or lack of availability of data, but we had to have in-depth discussions around the context in which we find ourselves.

“We are in a pandemic with limited options available. It is on that basis that we are saying we will facilitate a controlled access programme that will enable us to monitor the use and [allow people] to get healthcare,” she said.

SAHPRA has taken this posture, with several studies indicating there is not enough data on the risks and benefits of using the drug.

“We understand the position from which the health practitioners are coming. We also acknowledge that there are very limited but good evidence-based options that exist.

“We also understand the pressure healthcare practitioners are facing because of these limited options,” Semete-Makokotlela said.

One of the challenges faced by SAHPRA, said Semete-Makokotlela, is that the drug is currently not registered for human use in South Africa.

“In many countries, it’s being utilised off-label because a rigorous review was conducted when it was registered for human use.”

Since 6 January 2021, SAHPRA has reviewed an extensive piece of data that has emerged.

“Firstly, we engaged with the WHO [World Health Organisation] and there’s a statement they’ve issued around this, saying there’s limited information around [the drug]. WHO is working to review current clinical trials for them to get sufficient data to give to us.

“We’ve also engaged other regulators that we work closely with as SAHPRA, such as the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], the European Medicines Agency, MHRA in the UK, etc., and they have indicated a similar position to us,” said Semete-Makokotlela.

SAHPRA chairperson, Prof. Helen Rees, said the authority has taken into account the national context when considering the use of the drug.

“Since the pandemic began, the staff at SAHPRA have worked extraordinarily hard because it’s not just on medicines… It’s not just a simple thing to say that a new medicine has come along, can we register it?” she said.

During the pandemic, Rees said SAHPRA has been inundated by work needing its attention.

“During a wartime, there will be things that are not in the routine course of business, where the regulator has to think very hard and think of the context in which they are working, while still absolutely thinking of safety, quality and efficacy,” she said.

Rees said the authority is aware that, at the moment, there are limited options for the prevention and treatment of sickness.

“Although we now have good evidence for hospitalised patients, we’d like more. We are very supportive of our healthcare providers, who are in the frontline, who are really desperate and looking for solutions. 

“It is on this backdrop that the Ivermectin conversation needs to take place. We are very sensitive about this. We’ve had many conversations with expert committees, advisors and the board, and how we should proceed.”

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