Tag: Covid-19

South Africa reached a herd immunity against COVID-19

South Africa has reached some sort of herd immunity against COVID-19, but that was achieved in the context of the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

This is the view of Professor Shabir Madhi from the school of pathology at the University of the Witwatersrand. Madhi is also the director of the Medical Research Council’s Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA).

The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa peaked in July 2020 at around 14,000 per day.

Since then there has been a steady decline, which started to plateau in September at between 1,000 and 2,000 new cases per day.

The only plausible way to explain this decline, Madhi told Sky News, is that some sort of herd immunity has been reached.

Madhi said the coronavirus has “stimulated a level of immunity in approximately 12 to 15 million people” in South Africa.

Dr Nei-yuan (Marvin) Hsiao, a virologist at the University of Cape Town, shed further light on the immunity which Madhi is referring to.

His team tested for traces of the virus in blood samples from pregnant woman and HIV patients, and found much higher levels of infections than expected.

Hsiao told Sky News “on average 40% of respondents had developed coronavirus antibodies with the majority being unaware that they had been infected”.

A similar study in Gauteng found around one third of people who were tested showed that they had been infected with the virus.

These studies confirmed an earlier finding by Madhi during the preparation COVID-19 vaccine trials in South Africa.

Mahdi said they faced an unexpected challenge – far more people were infected but asymptomatic than previously thought.

He said between 50% and 66% of adults who are infected with COVID-19 are completely asymptomatic.

“The majority of COVID-19 infections are going unnoticed,” Mahdi said, adding that only around 10% of all COVID-19 cases are officially reported.

This information, Hsiao said, explains why there was an unexpected decline in coronavirus infections in South Africa.

“This immunity within the population level linked to the surge of infections is probably the main reason why we’ve seen the decrease of numbers of infected,” Hsiao said.

Professor Shabir Madhi against another hard lockdown

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize recently expressed concerns around a rising number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa.

Mkhize said this increase will be considered by the Department of Health as it makes new recommendations to the government’s National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala went one step further recently, warning of a second hard lockdown unless the number of cases decline.

“We can now safely say that we are definitely going back into a hard lockdown if there is no urgent and drastic change in behaviour,” said Zikalala.

Madhi, however, advised against a second hard lockdown in the case of a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

“The response has to be much more nuanced rather than simply believing that the highly restrictive lockdown is going to get rid of the virus,” he said.

“Under no circumstances is a lockdown on its own going to achieve the elimination of the virus.”

Private Healthcare Facing Future Problems

The Private Healthcare Sector in South Africa is facing a near-term risk of a shrinking population of insured individuals.  The sector also saw a  slower than expected return of patients to hospitals despite high numbers of Covid-19 cases failing to materialise.  This comes at a time when the government is pushing ahead with plans for a universal healthcare system.  The National Health Insurance (NHI) will see both the public and private systems folded into a single entity.

NHI aims to ensure that all citizens are provided with essential healthcare, regardless of employment status and ability to make a direct monetary contribution to the fund.  Sector Head for Healthcare and Hospitality at RMB, Jessica Spira, said: “In March this year, it was reasonable to assume that a global health pandemic would provide a meaningful tailwind for companies providing healthcare services. However, like many surprises in the Covid-19 pandemic, this was not the case for the hospital sector in South Africa. Hospitals had been working towards a model of a sustained high intensity of the crisis, but the country’s peak was shorter than expected. As a result, both private and public hospitals coped well in terms of capacity strain.”

Spira said that hospitals also treated fewer non-Covid-19 patients as many stayed at home fearing infection.  The incidence of seasonal infections diseases such as flu also dropped – partly due to social distancing and greater awareness of hygiene.  Elective surgical procedures were deferred as health care facilities anticipated a deluge of Covid-19 cases.

Even as the world slowly returns to normal private hospitals face an uphill battle as the full impact of the economic slump is yet to be felt.  “Currently private hospitals are running at about 60% occupancy but some of this represents a backlog of deferred procedures not carried out during the lockdown period.  But the insured population in South Africa is under pressure,” said Spira.  According to her, people have been “buying down” on their healthcare plans even before the lockdown.  People are opting for cheaper and less comprehensive options, with many dropping healthcare altogether.

Another problem faced by the heath care sector is the loss of trained and experienced staff.  Many South African healthcare workers are leaving the country amid misgivings around the NHI.  A Feedback questionnaire sent to healthcare workers in both the private and public sector revealed concerns about the proposed NHI.  Only 15% believe that it will be successful.

Meanwhile, though the likelihood of a second wave of infections remain probable, it is likely to be less severe than the first and will be dealt with as efficiently.  “We expect that as South Africans become more comfortable returning to hospitals, particularity for delayed elective procedures that cannot be put off any longer, the private healthcare sector should receive a boost over the coming months. But total recovery may take longer than expected in SA and may only return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022 or later,” said RMB’s Spira.

“And it is not certain what a full recovery will even look like. The Covid-19 pandemic put the spotlight on the healthcare sector and showed where inefficiencies exist – especially in the public sector.  However, the private hospital sector is structurally sound for the long term, provided consumers continue to see medical insurance as a necessity.”

President Ramaphosa in Self-Quarantine

President Ramaphosa is in self-quarantine after a guest at a dinner party he attended tested positive for Covid-19.  The presidency released a statement on Wednesday saying that the president is showing no symptoms and will be tested should any symptoms become clear.

Ramaphosa on Saturday attended a fundraising dinner of the Adopt-a-School Foundation which is a partner entity of the Ramaphosa Foundation.  The event entertained 35 guests at a Johannesburg Hotel.  “The event adhered stringently to COVID-19 protocols and directives on screening, social distancing and the wearing of masks. As was the case with all guests, the President himself removed his mask only when dining and addressing the guests,” the statement read.  “The President is screened regularly by the South African Military Health Service and subjects himself to screening at venues where he participates in engagements.”

Ramaphosa send well wishes to the infected guest, who is receiving medical attention, a safe and speedy recovery, and wishes to other guests for good health.  The President will perform his duties remotely and will observe all guidelines for self-quarantine.

covid+lockdown

Concerns about second hard lockdown

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala recently raised concerns about a second hard lockdown in South Africa unless there is a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases.

“Looking at the statistics, we can now safely say that we are definitely going back into a hard lockdown if there is no urgent and drastic change in behaviour,” Zikalala said.

His comments followed a steady rise in new COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, which raised concerns about a second wave.

Other leaders have also raised concerns over the lack of compliance with current regulations that is leading to the spread of the virus.

Free State health spokesperson Mondli Mvambi said people have dropped their guard. This needs to change to prevent the second wave of COVID-19 infections, he said.

Talk of a second lockdown amidst rising COVID-19 cases is not unexpected, as this has happened in many other countries.

Last week, Italy imposed harsh new restrictions while Spain announced a national night-time curfew and banned large gatherings.

Britain has also launched new regional lockdowns with gyms, bars, and casinos being closed and non-essential travel being discouraged.

Graeme Codrington, futurist and partner at TomorrowToday, said the additional lockdown measures are understandable.

He said many people still die from COVID-19 and that a high percentage of people take a long time to recover and may have lasting symptoms from the virus.

“Around 20% of people who get COVID-19 get it really seriously. Many need hospitalisation and take weeks to recover,” he said.

“There is growing concern that the people who do get it seriously have a long-term, maybe even lifelong, medical impact on their system.”

He did, however, say at this stage the comments on a second hard lockdown in South Africa is aimed at warning people rather than implement stricter measures immediately.

“If we can get back to where we started in South Africa, with scientific-based policy and citizens talking it seriously, I think we can get through this without going back to hard lockdown,” he said.

“If we don’t, this disease doesn’t care about our holidays and our mood. COVID-19 is with us for a while still.”

Second hard lockdown economic concern in South Africa

Talk of a second hard lockdown in South Africa has seen many people warn that it will cause severe damage to an already struggling economy.

ETM Macro Advisors founder Russell Lamberti said the lockdown has had and continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of millions of South Africans.

“I am alarmed that another lockdown is being considered after extreme government incompetence and mismanagement during the first hard lockdown,” he said.

Lamberti added that there is no good reason for ramping up lockdown restrictions as they do more harm than good.

“Lockdown restrictions increase destructive and corrupt state actions, and leave businesses floundering in a sea of uncertainty and loss of revenue,” he said.

He called on health minister Zweli Mkhize to act responsibly to avoid another humanitarian disaster.

“The minister should recommend to the president to end all lockdown restrictions immediately, lift the state of disaster, and allow people and organisations to manage their unique risks by converting all COVID-19 regulations into non-compulsory recommendations,” he said.

Dick Forslund, economist and researcher at the Alternative Information and Development Centre, echoed these views, saying it will be impossible to have a new hard lockdown.

He said more sophisticated measures like large education and awareness campaigns are better suited to address the problem.

“If they go for a hard lockdown now, I am afraid there will be even more state violence. You basically can’t do that,” Forslund said.

He added that a second hard lockdown goes against the economic recovery plans announced by the Treasury.

Tourism Minister’s Hope on the Festive Season

The Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, on Monday said she hoped that the country’s borders would be opened to all countries before the December holidays.  According to the minister the list of countries banned from travelling to South Africa is reassessed.  Countries are banned due to high Covid-19 infection rates.  Several European countries are currently battling a spike in the number of infections, a so-called second wave.

Minister Kubayi-Ngubane visited Limpopo last week aiming to boost local tourism.

The Palala Boutique Game Lodge and Spa in the Limpopo province was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown and serves as a stark reminder of the crisis the world is currently facing.  With 22 countries still not allowed into South Africa due to their high number of coronavirus infections, the tourism industry is now relying on local tourists for an economic boost.

Kubayi-Ngubane said that even though South Africa desperately needed the international economic boost, it could not risk a second wave of Covid-19 infections.  “The tourism sector would lose a lot of jobs and a lot more businesses would go under. We do believe that we have a second chance to try and recover and anything that can happen can literally take us backwards (sic).”

The travel ban on these countries also adversely affects the hunting season in South Africa said the minister.  Limpopo, which is one of the country’s poorest provinces, relies heavily on the hunting season for a much-needed economic injection.  “They need to get permits now for January so with the uncertainty of their own borders, it is worrying. We are watching closely at what happens there because from our side we are making progress for a number of countries to be able to come but we are worried about us opening 100% – you win that battle at opening 100%, only to find that other countries are closing (sic).”

Covid-19 Update: Second hard lockdown warning

President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation this week again due to the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise.

“He said it is now long overdue for him to address the nation and it will be coming up this week”  Ramaphosa confirmed when he spoke to Leanne Manas over the weekend.

The daily stats shows a definite increase in positive cases and the concern is that the average daily new cases between 25 September and 1 October was 1,706.  Ramaphosa warned that the return of a hard lockdown was on the cards unless there is a decline in the number of cases.

“Looking at the statistics, we can now safely say that we are definitely going back into a hard lockdown if there is no urgent and drastic change in behaviors” said Zikalala.  According to Zikalala the second wave of Covid-19 will be “stronger and deadlier” – not only in deaths, but also in terms of economic hardship.

He zoned in on the “reckless trading in alcohol” which has the “potential to derail all the progress we have made in preparing our healthcare system for a potential onslaught of Covid-19”

“People have dropped their guard.  They have stopped wearing masks with integrity” he said.

Joburg Field Hospital costs R256-million for 5 patients?

The Gauteng Health Department have confirmed that the Nasrec Field Hospital will remain open until January 2021.  This despite that only 5 patients being admitted in October.  The purpose of the hospital was to alleviate the burden of Coronavirus patients at clinics and hospitals across Johannesburg.  The facility cost R350 million to set up.

Jacob Mamabolo, Gauteng acting MEC for health,, said that the threat of Covid-19 infections has not been sufficiently reduce to justify closure of the field hospital.  He said the risk of a second wave of covid infections were too high. “Nasrec will only close after January 2021, which is a key milestone post the festive season. The department will be monitoring the festive season period closely as it relates to Covid-19 infections,” Mamabolo explained.

For October only five patients were admitted while September had 21 patients being treated at the facility.  The facility boasts 500 beds with quarantine and isolation facilities and a 1,000 bed step-down hospital facility.  DA Health MEC Jack Bloom that the cost to keep the field hospital open until the end of January could be as much as R256-million. “This is really exorbitant as only 604 people were quarantined or isolated, and only 96 patients were treated there for this period. It amounts to R96,000 paid for each quarantined/isolated person, and R720,000 for each patient treated at the field hospital,” he said.

According to Bloom, the department is paying for the 1,000-bed facility to ensure that there is capacity for a possible second wave of infections, or the possibility of an infection spike over the holiday period in December.  The original projected cost was R350-million but is now between R157-million and R256-million for all costs.  This includes assets to be recovered. “This is hugely wasteful expenditure. There were clear signs after the initial alarmist projections that the Covid-19 epidemic would peak in July rather than in August/September as was originally expected. There was no scenario that infections would be surging in January next year, yet a six month contract for 1,000 beds was signed on 1 August with the Joburg Expo Centre which runs Nasrec.”

Meanwhile, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said that SA reported fewer than expected cases in the move to level 1.  He reiterated that a second wave was likely, and that South Africa would possibly follow the pattern established by most other countries, were a new surge in cases was recorded after a plateau was reached. “The conduct of the pandemic is not the same in all countries. One of the issues that we have been struggling with is ‘what made (South Africa) get the wave it actually did?’,” he said.

24 July 2020. An outside view of Hall 6 – the “Red Zone” – shows part of the ventilation system at the Nasrec Field Hospital. Johannesburg. Picture: James Oatway.

New List for High Risk Countries

The South African Government has released a revised list of high-risk countries for international travel. The list has seen a significant decrease and only 22 countries remain banned. In their statement, the Department of Home Affairs said: “We continue to be reminded that the Covid-19 pandemic is still with us and we need to continue to take precautions. In its last meeting, the Cabinet instructed the ministers of Health, Home Affairs and Tourism to lead a process to review the list. The review of the list of high-risk countries was done in such a way that it strikes a balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.”

“People from high-risk countries who may visit SA fall in the following categories: business travellers, holders of critical skills visas, investors, and people on international missions in sports, arts, culture, and science. In addition, we recognise that there are a number of regular visitors from mainly European countries that have been accustomed to long visits to our country during our summer season when it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere.”

The list now contain only 22 countries, compared to the original 57.

  • Argentina
  • Germany
  • Peru
  • Bangladesh
  • India
  • Philippines
  • Belgium
  • Indonesia
  • Russia
  • Brazil
  • Iran
  • Spain
  • Canada
  • Iraq
  • United Kingdom
  • Chile
  • Italy
  • USA
  • Colombia
  • Mexico
  • France
  • Netherlands

Business travellers are required to request permission from the department when travelling from high-risk countries to South Africa. All travellers are required to produce proof of a negative Covid-19 test result, not older than 72 hours from the time of departure. Screening will be conducted upon arrival, and antigen testing at the airport should a traveller fail the screening protocols. The department received 4,701 applications for travel, mostly from the agriculture, manufacturing, mining and tourism sectors. 3,113 application have been approved.

The Crazy New World of Masks

With the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, we were introduced to a whole new world – The world of Masks.  The mask has become as essential as car keys, wallet and cellphone when leaving the house.  If you spend a little time in the parking lot of any mall you will quickly see people going into the centre, only to return minutes later to fetch the mask they forgot in the car.

Thankfully, many people have seen the compulsory wearing of masks as a creative challenge.  A famous Instagram-user have always posted photos of people he ran into on the New York Subway.  Recently, he started sharing photos of people and their masks.

Masks are made from anything that people can lay their hands on: Plastic bottles, plastic bags, paper bags, tissues, buckets, and a variety of fabrics.  Have a look at some of these crazy creations

 

Gautrain Threatened by Numsa Strikes

Trade Union Numsa (National Union of Metal Workers South Africa) has served the Bombela Operations Company with a 48-hour strike notice.  This comes after wage negotiations between the management and the union failed.  Numsa has since stated that their members working at Gautrain would go on strike indefinitely until their demands are met.  Bombela Operations Company, or BOC, manages the Gautrain project.  Numsa accused the company of imposing a 4% wage increase without engaging with its workers.  BOC urged the union to abandon their intentions to strike and to respect the vote of the majority of the workers it represents.

Workers are demanding an 8% salary increase.  Numsa, which represents 258 employees of the 320 staff at Gautrain, said that it would down tools on Monday should the company fail to return to the negotiation table to find an amicable solution for both parties.  Phakamile Hlubi-Majola accused the BOC of refusing to engage with workers meaningfully: “In South Africa, there is a culture in the workplace where executives do as they please and impose decisions on the workforce instead of engaging with the workers to find a solution and this is the case with the BOC. While we do understand that the may have economic difficulties, probably because of COVID-19, no employer has the right to simply impose changes without meaningful engagement.”

Numsa has warned residents to make use of alternative transportation next week.

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