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Tag: Covid-19

COVID Cases Increase by 9,149

South Africa has entered the third wave with the NICD announcing that 9,149 new cases have been recorded in the past day. One hundred new COVID-19 deaths have been added to South Africa’s death toll in the past 24-hour cycle, bringing the total number of fatalities to 57,410. Total cases since the start of the outbreak have now increased to over 1,722,000. So far, 1,593,000 people have recovered, translating to 92.5% of the recoveries.

Several churches have already closed their doors, opting for online services once again in an effort to protect their members.  Many schools have closed temporarily for sanitization after several students and teachers tested positive for the virus.

While many residents still refuse to wear masks in public places, those who have recovered from the virus have spoken out about the long-term side-effects they have suffered since.  Michael, an accountancy student at the University of the North West, tested positive for Covid in May 2020.  “I still can not taste anything.  My marks have also gone down considerably as I struggle to retain information while studying, something I never struggled with before.”

Antoinette, a 58-year-old woman from Johannesburg South suffered severe deterioration of her eyesight.  “I have had several procedures done at an eye clinic, but I continue to struggle.  I can no longer drive myself anywhere.”

A school principal from the Midvaal area has remained unwell since testing positive over a year ago.  He has not been able to work a full day since his diagnosis and has to be taken home every day to rest and recover.  He does much of his work from home now.

The department of Health continues to urge people to take the virus seriously and to wear masks, and sanitize frequently.

1,619,000 healthcare workers and people over 60 have now received at least one dose of a vaccine.  The NICD said that coronavirus cases had exceeded the threshold as defined by the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC).

SA Lockdown to be Intensified with 8,881 new cases

Over the past 24 hours, a total of 8,881 new cases of COVID-19 have been added to the country’s infection caseload, taking the total number of positive tests to over 1,712,000. This alarming jump in daily cases brings with the possibility of stricter lockdown rules and closure of schools in South Africa.  The government has not yet indicated that the lockdown level will change, but experts now agree that it seems inevitable as the third wave continues to grow in South Africa.

Many schools have already closed in the Ekurhuleni district and surrounds.  Minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, is rumoured to be addressing the nation on plans for the schools on Sunday, but no confirmation of this has been received.

The Midvaal municipality has become one of the hotspots of the third wave, with thousands of positive cases reported in the past 2 weeks.  The comparatively small municipality has, until now, boasted relatively low covid statistics.

In the same 24-hour cycle, 57,310 total deaths have been recorded in South Africa after 127 fatalities were reported. South Africa’s recovery rate is at 92.8%, translating to a total of at least 1,589,000 recoveries so far.

The Health Department has vaccinated 91,541 people over the last 24 hours, taking the total to more than 1,525,000 for both the elderly who are 60 and above as well as healthcare workers.

Strict Lockdown Implemented Soon

Health experts believe that South Africa should introduce stricter lockdown regulations to avoid the impact of new Covid-19 variants and the possibility of a severe third wave. Dr Asmal Dasoo, the convenor of the Progressive Health Forum, said that the country should move to a higher lockdown level to further limit large gatherings and super-spreader events.

According to Dasoo, the most important thing was to prepare healthcare workers for an influx of new cases, and that ideally gatherings should be limited to no more than 10 people. Alex van den Heever, the chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand echoed this saying that restrictions will need to be introduced as the country ramps up its vaccination programme.

“All we have to do now is block all gatherings of more than ten people. Once you have more than ten people, the spread becomes more exponential.”

Van den Heever said that a travel ban on the UK and India was unlikely to make much difference, as the Covid-19 variants from these two countries have likely been circulating in South Africa for much longer than official data suggest.

Adrian Puren of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said that non-pharmaceutical interventions will be the key to addressing the third wave. This should include the wearing of masks as well as strict social distancing. A level 3 lockdown, as implemented during the country’s second wave, could be a key tool in the country’s fight against another wave.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Thursday said that government can facilitate and intervene, but ultimately it would concentrate on economic recovery rather than imposing further restrictions. “Therefore every citizen must adhere to the non-pharmaceutical interventions if we are to avoid further restrictions,” he said. According to the Minister, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is deliberating on the issue of border control and final determinations will find expression in Cabinet and be communicated to the public thereafter.

The Dreaded Third wave 

Recent predictive modelling published by the NICD showed that Gauteng is once again at the highest risk of having a particularly devastating third wave, due to the high concentration of working-age adults and people with co-morbidities in the province, and the lower estimates of seroprevalence – the level of a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood serum.

The peak of the third wave will be lower than the second wave – except in Gauteng. It is not clear when the third wave will hit, but the shape it will take and what will drive it has already been determined. Seasonal factors will play a part, echoing views from medical experts who believe the third wave will likely hit around the end of May entering June, coinciding with the shift to winter.

The NICD’s modelling does not however factor in other variants. Should other variants come into play, it said, the peak of the third wave could be much higher than the second wave across South Africa. The report was published before the UK (B.1.1.7) and Indian (B.1.617.2) variants of the virus were discovered in the country. The Health Department announced on Sunday that the UK and Indian variants have already been detected in South Africa, with 11 and 4 cases respectively. While the Indian variant is still contained, the UK variant is already at a community transmission level.

On Monday (10 May), South Africa reported 1,129 new Covid-19 cases, taking the total reported to 1,597,724. Deaths stand at 54,825, while recoveries have climbed to 1,517,350, leaving the country with a balance of 25,549 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is now 395,230.

Australian borders will be closed until 2022

Scores of people across the world have been eagerly awaiting the reopening of Australia’s borders so they could again visit family, friends, or loved ones whom they have been separated from for well over a year.

Australia’s borders have been closed since March 2020.  The latest news that the country’s border closure will continue into 2022, comes as a blow to travellers who were hoping that they would be able to travel to Australia from October this year.

BORDER OPENING: AUSTRALIA TO EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION

The Telegraph reports that Australia’s Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Australian media that the country would not be reopening its borders to most international visitors until next year at the very earliest, and even then, the country would be very cautious regarding who will be permitted through its borders.

“We won’t be seeing borders being flung open at the start of next year with great ease,” Birmingham was quoted as saying in The Telegraph.

DELAYED VACCINATION DRIVE

The Australian government previously indicated that the country’s borders were set to reopen in October 2021, but delays in Australia’s vaccination programme — compounded by the unknown efficacy of vaccines against the new COVID-19 variants prevalent in several countries — have forced Australia to push back the reopening of its borders.

“Uncertainties exist — not just in the speed of the vaccine rollout, but also the extent of its effectiveness to different variants of COVID, the duration of its longevity and effectiveness,” Birmingham said.

‘TRAVEL BUBBLES’

When Australia finally does allow foreign visitors to travel to its shores, the country will begin by allowing entry to key states which have had managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their countries.

The Telegraph reports that so-called “travel bubbles” are likely to be implemented between Australia and select Asian nations, such as Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, though there is no confirmed date for the commencement of these arrangements.

Third wave warning: Mkhize says these are the 21 ‘districts of concern’

South Africa has now recorded more than 2000 new COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row. The country added 2 150 new cases and 63 people died on Thursday, 6 May.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli said that there has been a week-on-week increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in South Africa. This “worrying trend” is most evident in districts in the Free State, Gauteng, Northern Cape and North West, said Mkhize.

However, he added, that every province in the country, besides the Eastern Cape, has at least one district of concern. In total, there are 21 districts of concern in eight provinces.

DISTRICTS OF CONCERN

The districts of concern have been earmarked by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) because there has been an appreciable rise in the 14-day average percent change.

Mkhize said that while some of the districts may have relatively low case numbers, the jump in the percentage of cases in the areas should be taken as a “serious warning.”

The districts listed below all experienced 20% increase in the average number of cases in the last two weeks:

Free State: Mangaung Metro, Fezile Dabi, Xhariep, Lejweleputswa

Gauteng: City of Joburg Metro, Sedibeng, Ekurhuleni Metro, City of Tshwane Metro

KwaZulu-Natal: Ethekwini Metro

Limpopo: Capricorn, Mopani

Mpumalanga: Nkangala, Gert Sibande

North West: Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Bojanala Platinum

Northern Cape: Pixley Ka Seme, Zf Mgcawu, Frances Baard

Western Cape: Overberg

Mkhize lauded the Eastern Cape for not having a single district of concern but he explained that it does not mean the province is not adding new COVID-19 infections, saying that the once-embattled province has managed to maintain a plateau.

“The Eastern Cape suffered a devastating second wave and was the first province to adopt a differentiated approach where certain metros and districts implemented tighter regulations than others, where it became necessary,” said Mkhize.

PREVENTING THE  THIRD WAVE IS DOWN TO THE PUBLIC, SAYS MKHIZE

The health minister suggested that the sacrifices made by the Eastern Cape to mitigate the spread of the virus should serve as inspiration for the rest of the country when it comes to preventing the third wave of infections.

“This reinforces the message that we can all play our part to ensure that these rise in infections do not turn into a third wave,” said Mkhize.

“We all know what it takes to keep the coronavirus at bay – strict wearing of masks, sanitising and avoiding crowded gatherings.”

He said the government can intervene but it would rather focus on economic recovery – instead of imposing restrictions. “Therefore every citizen must adhere to the non-pharmaceutical interventions if we are to avoid further restrictions.”

MKHIZE: NO NEED TO PANIC ABOUT B.1.617

South Africans have been on alert since news broke this week that travellers from India tested positive for COVID-19 and the possibility that the variant of concern from India, B.1.617, had been imported.

Mkhize said scientists have taken samples from the travellers and the testing is done on one patient revealed that he had been infected with the B.1.351 variant, which is circulating in South Africa.

“This tells us that one cannot assume that a traveller carries any particular variant and this is why we insist on being guided by the science,” said the health minister.

“Scientists around the world do not blame the devastating of COVID-19 [in India] on the variant alone but always observe that the lack of non-pharmaceutical interventions played a major role in the spread of the variant in that country,” he added.

The minister argued that the B.1.351 variant has even more mutations than B.1.617, saying that we were still able to control it and flatten the curve. He said there is no reason to panic about the variant of concern because the virus is treated and prevented from spreading in the same way.

“Having said that, we do share the concerns of our citizens that we could import a variant of concern that can drive another wave. For this reason, the NCCC is deliberating on the issue of border control and final determinations will find expression in Cabinet and be communicated to the public accordingly,” concluded Mkhize.

Indian cargo ship ‘quarantined’ in Durban

An Indian cargo bulk carrier docked in Durban harbour on Sunday and is being quarantined after a crew member died during the 14-day journey from India to SA.

14 of the crew have been isolated pending the results of Covid-19 testing.  This comes as the Indian subcontinent has emerged as the global pandemic epicenter and is reporting more than 300,000 new Covid-19 cases a day. The new cases and associated fatalities are largely driven by the B.1.617 variant.

On Tuesday, port authorities were informed to halt all operations and interaction on the vessel — which had been transporting rice.

A senior port official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least 200 port employees had been working on the vessel since Sunday evening.

“The ship arrived on Sunday night at around 8.30pm. One of the crew members had died during the voyage and we were told that it was of a heart attack. This morning we were informed by health officials to stop all operations with the vessel. The captain of the ship remains on board but 14 of his crew were taken away for testing.”

It is understood that at least 3,000 tonnes of rice had been manually offloaded from the vessel and transported to a warehouse at the port.

“The rice come in 50kg bags. We are a bit concerned because a lot of people have boarded that vessel since Sunday.”

A source at the SA Revenue Service’s customs division confirmed the information and said health officials from Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) were aware of the matter.

“The vessel is currently on quarantine. No one is allowed to leave or enter the vessel, and the company responsible for anyone who worked onboard is to track and trace all employees who interacted with the subject vessel.”

The bulk carrier, the name cannot be revealed at this stage as efforts to contact the owners are ongoing, departed from India on April 18 and arrived in Durban on Sunday.

New lockdown rules for South Africa considered

The resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic in India has prompted the South African government to consider introducing additional measures in order to stave off a third wave.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told an online conference that a close eye was being kept on India, which has now the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the world.

“The challenges we have seen in India are very serious,” Mkhize said. “We have received an advisory from the ministerial advisory council that we have to consider some restrictions and we are now going through that,” he said, without giving details.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa eased coronavirus restrictions in March as the rate of new infections dropped, scrapping most limits on alcohol sales, shortening a night-time curfew and permitting larger public gatherings.

Covid-19 infections in Africa’s most-industrialized economy have fallen from about 22,000 a day in January to fewer than 1,000, even without a large-scale vaccination campaign.

The chart below, courtesy of Media Hack, shows the daily confirmed cases in South Africa since March 2020.

Confirmed cases

India hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases

Hospitals in India launched desperate appeals for oxygen on Friday as the nation’s COVID-19 crisis plummeted to horrifying new depths, while Japan readied to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo just three months before it hosts the Olympics.

COVID-19 surges are placing a major strain on healthcare systems across the world, with no end in sight to a pandemic that has killed more than three million people.

The wave in India has been blamed on a new “double mutant” virus variant and the government’s allowing huge public gatherings that have turned out to be super-spreader events.

The country on Friday reported more than 330,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths in a single day, as healthcare facilities sounded the alarm on oxygen supplies for patients on ventilator support.

“SOS – less than an hour’s oxygen supplies at Max Smart Hospital & Max Hospital Saket,” one of the biggest private hospital chains in Delhi said on Twitter.

“Over 700 patients admitted, need immediate assistance.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set to hold at least three crisis meetings to discuss oxygen supplies and the availability of critical medicines.

Compounding the misery, 13 COVID-19 patients died in Mumbai when a fire broke out in their hospital – the latest in a string of blazes at Indian healthcare facilities.

There had been hopes at the start of the year that India may have put the worst of the pandemic behind it.

That belief led the government to lower its guard and allow most activity to return almost to normal in recent months, including weddings and cricket matches.

The vast Kumbh Mela festival, one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, held in the city of Haridwar, attracted an estimated 25 million Hindu pilgrims, mostly without masks.

Many parts of the country have now tightened restrictions, with the capital in lockdown and all non-essential services banned in Maharashtra. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, goes into a shutdown this weekend.

Other countries have closed their doors to India, fearing the new virus strain. The United Arab Emirates on Thursday became the latest nation to impose restrictions, while Canada halted flights from both India and Pakistan.

‘STRONG, BRIEF AND FOCUSED’

Many countries are seeing fresh waves of the virus despite vaccine programmes gaining ground.

Japan was on Friday set to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions, just three months before the country is supposed to host the Olympics.

The capital region on Thursday recorded more than 860 new infections, figures not seen since January. Cases have surged over the winter and rebounded since a previous state of emergency was lifted in March.

“We will take strong, brief and focused emergency measures,” said top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato.

The curbs will coincide with the annual Golden Week holiday, Japan’s busiest travel period, and could involve cutting some train and bus services to discourage movement.

Authorities in affected regions are also likely to bar spectators from sports events – but officials have been insistent that the emergency measures will have no impact on staging the Olympics.

Vaccination programmes that started very sluggishly in many European countries are now beginning to pick up speed.

Germany is expecting to open up inoculation to all adults in June at the latest, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

Europe’s biggest economy is in talks with Russia to buy 30 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, according to Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer, who discussed the issue with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

The AstraZeneca vaccine’s troubles show no sign of abating, with the European Commission seeking to launch legal action against the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker for under-delivering doses to the EU, which hobbled the bloc’s early rollout of jabs.

SA’s vaccine registration portal opens to people over 60

South Africans aged 60 and older can now register online to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations as part of the preparation for phase two of the country’s vaccine rollout.

South Afircan’s Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), which previously been limited to accept registrations from frontline healthcare workers only, has been opened up to the country’s elderly population.

Despite South Africa lagging behind in its phased approach to the rollout – with less than 300 000 healthcare workers vaccinated out of a targeted 1.2 million in phase one – the department of health is readying itself for the next phase, which aims to vaccinate more than 16 million South Africans.

While South Africa’s vaccination program is currently on hold due to the concerns around blood clots, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize urged persons aged 60 and older to register for their shots on Friday morning.

The online registration can be completed via a desktop computer or smartphone.  “If you are 60 years or older, you may now register for vaccination” explained Mkhize at the launch of the expansion of the EVDS system to include persons identified in phase two of the rollout.

“You must have your ID and medical aid card [number], if you have one, and when you register, it’s very important that you put the correct cellphone number and address where you live.  The data from the system assists us to allocate the vaccines to the vaccine service point and ensure that there are enough vaccines available on a particular vaccination day”

Once the registration process has been completed, the department of health will communicate details of the closest vaccination site allocation and date with the applicant via an SMS.

People who encounter problems registering through the EVDS have been encouraged to call the Covid-19 hotline on 08600 029 999.  Mkhize added that a dedicated call center for the EVDS was being finalised and, once live, would handle all registration-related queries.

Once vaccinated, you will receive a digital vaccination card as proof of the jab.  This, too, will be registered through and delivered by, the EVDS system.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Minister Dlamini-Zuma extends National State of Disaster to 15 May 2021

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on Wednesday, 14 April 2021, gazetted the extension of the COVID-19 National State of Disaster until 15 May 2021.

“We must sustain our commitment to remain responsive, agile and compassionate as we work to save lives and protect the livelihoods of all South Africans”

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

CoGTA explained in a statement that the “extension is in terms of section 27(5)(c) of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002). It was postponed following consultations with Cabinet.

Minister Dlamini-Zuma explained that she had taken into account “the need to continue augmenting the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by organs of state to mitigate against the impact of the disaster on lives and livelihoods”.

STATE OF DISASTER LAWS EXTENDED IN MARCH

Prior to this, the State of Disaster laws were extended for 35 days in March, with Minister Dlamini-Zuma saying at the time the extension would stay in place until 15 April 2021.

The State of Disaster will likely be extended again on 15 May. Despite COVID-19 infection rates decreasing, the virus is still “in circulation” and the vaccine hold-up could only exacerbate the delay.

The first reported case of COVID-19 in Africa was recorded on 27 February 2020 in Nigeria, with the NICD confirming the first South African case on 4 March 2020.

FIRST STATE OF DISASTER IMPLEMENTED 15 MARCH 2020

Despite the country’s low caseload at the time (61 confirmed cases and zero deaths), President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a State of Disaster in effect from 15 March 2020.

At the time, Dlamini-Zuma said the implementation of the National State of Disaster was necessary to assist in protecting the public as well as provide relief, protect property, and prevent disruption.

Once the motion was approved, Cabinet urged South Africans to “build on the momentum of this encouraging news and continue to work together to consistently do the right things”.

South Africans were reminded to practise social distancing, continue to wear masks, and wash and sanitise hands regularly.

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