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Tag: Covid-19

Huisgenoot did report a ‘coronavirus outbreak’ in 2003 – but not Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic caused by a “novel” coronavirus discovered in China in December 2019 has locked down countries across the world and killed more than 1.9 million people as of 11 January 2021.

Huisgenoot wrote about a “supervirus” discovered in China as far back as 2003.  Was this a prediction?

In early 2021, several Facebook posts have shared copies of pages from what appears to be a 2003 issue of Huisgenoot that discuss “’n agressiewe variant van die corona-virus” – “an aggressive variant of the coronavirus”.

Several posters speculated that the magazine had already reported on “this” coronavirus – “Huisgenoot alreeds berig oor hierdie corona virus” – and suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic is the “exact same thing all over again”.

There are Facebook posts about the older Huisgenoot article from as early as May 2020, but since newer posts on the same topic were published in the first week of January 2021, these earlier posts have also seen hundreds of thousands of new views.  Did Huisgenoot report on “this coronavirus” in 2003? And is Covid-19 the “same thing all over again?”

A tale of two viruses

It is difficult to discern the date on the magazine cover in many of the images shared, but these close-up photos confirm the article was in the 10 April 2003 issue.  The article is about “ernstige akute asemhalingsindroom (EAAS)”, Afrikaans for “severe acute respiratory syndrome”, or Sars.

Sars is caused by a coronavirus, a family of viruses named for the “crown” or shape of the spikes on their outer surface. Corona is Latin for crown. The virus that causes Sars is named “Sars-associated coronavirus” or “Sars-CoV”.

It was first discovered in February 2003 when a series of Sars infections were reported in China. The disease spread to several other countries in an epidemic that was never declared a pandemic. Only 8,098 people were diagnosed with Sars, and 774 died.

Covid-19 is caused by a different but closely related coronavirus, named “Sars-CoV-2”. This virus was first reported in China in December 2019, and later detected in other countries.

Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 12 March 2020, at which point 125,260 cases and 4,613 deaths had been identified worldwide.

The bigger picture

Because they are so closely related and share such similar names and origin, it can be easy to confuse the virus that causes Sars with the virus that causes Covid-19. But these simple mistakes have played into a broader trend of misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

False claims that the pandemic was predicted by a number of historical figures, for example, have informed conspiracy theories that the disease was artificially created.

Huisgenoot did report on the 2003 Sars outbreak caused by a coronavirus. But this was not the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, a far deadlier disease. The 2003 article was not prophetic.

World Health Organisation Two Step Approach to Eradicating Covid

The world is witnessing the emergence of more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but a stuttering race to ensure equitable access to vaccines has seen a handful of countries streak ahead, immunising their populations and leaving many of the world’s vulnerable in their wake.

Communities are struggling with impatience and fatigue, which is understandable. However, easing basic public health measures, such as wearing mask and social distancing, risks fuelling ongoing transmission. In combination with new, more infectious variants and the “me first” attitude of some countries, the unvaccinated and those who have received only one vaccine dose are at increasing risk.

The world is at a perilous point and we, the World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general’s special envoys, are calling for a renewed commitment to a comprehensive approach to defeating this pandemic. We have to accelerate along two tracks — one where governments and vaccine manufacturers support all WHO member states in their accelerated efforts to create vaccine manufacturing capacity and vaccinate their most vulnerable populations, and the other where individuals and communities maintain a steely focus on continuing essential public health measures to break transmission chains.

The first track requires immediate implementation of reiterated calls by the WHO and its Covax partners on the best use of vaccines. Almost 3-billion doses of vaccine have been distributed globally, but only 90-million of those have gone through Covax. There are at least 60 countries which rely on Covax for vaccines and those countries have vaccination rates that average less than 3%. The world must implement a strategy at global, regional and national level whereby the most vulnerable are vaccinated first, rather than leaving health workers, the elderly and those with underlying conditions at risk of severe disease.

It also includes supporting the WHO’s call to vaccinate at least 10% of the population of every country by September, and a “drive to December” to vaccinate 40% by the end of 2021. Achieving the September goal means 250-million more people in low- and middle-income countries must be vaccinated in four months, prioritising all health workers and the most at-risk groups to save lives.

Countries with the greatest stocks of vaccines should not hoard them and push to cover their entire populations while other countries do without.

Such goals align with the bold initiative by the WHO, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Bank to call for $50bn (about R742bn) in increased financing to vaccinate 40% of the world’s population by the end of the year and 60% by mid-2022. Such an investment pales into comparison against the trillions of dollars of economic losses and costs connected to the pandemic.

The WHO continues working to make safe and effective vaccines and other tools available to the world. These range from issuing Emergency Use Listings (EUL) for eight vaccines so far and launching the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator to spur development of and access to solutions to diagnose, treat and vaccinate vulnerable people in all countries, to enabling developing countries to create their own vaccine manufacturing capacity. Investing in manufacturing and diagnostic capacity, virus sequencing capacity, increased case surveillance and other measures are essential components of controlling this pandemic.

Countries with the greatest stocks of vaccines should not hoard them and push to cover their entire populations while other countries do without. It is not in their best interest, since the intense circulation of the virus in countries with no vaccines increases the possibility of more transmissible and dangerous variants, threatening to make current vaccines less effective.

At the same time, the world must not lose sight of the second track, which requires that all people refresh their commitment to protect themselves and others by continuing to adhere to mask wearing, physical distancing, ventilation and other actions that have been proven to curtail virus spread. Engaging with communities, building trust and empowering people to feel part of the response are the keys to inspiring people to continue, even more than a year into the pandemic.

The urgent call is to save lives. The world has a moral imperative to do so. Global solidarity — even fuelled by the selfish interest of stopping the emergence of new variants — is needed more than ever. By actively calling for a two-track approach to ensure the most vulnerable get vaccinated and adhering to sound public health measures, and by calling out those who could be doing more, the whole world can benefit and save lives. No-one is safe until everyone is safe.

Authors:

  • David Nabarro: WHO director-general’s special envoy for Europe and North America
  • John Nkengasong: WHO director-general’s special envoy for Africa (anglophone)
  • Prof Samba Sow: WHO director-general’s special envoy for Africa (francophone)
  • Prof Dr Maha El Rabbat: WHO director-general’s special envoy for the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Mirta Roses: WHO director-general’s special envoy for Latin Americas and Caribbean
  • Dr Palitha Abeykoon: WHO director-general’s special envoy for Southeast Asia

Unvaccinated Teachers Will Not Be Dismissed

The Department of Basic Education said that while it was strongly recommending that all educators get vaccinated as soon as possible, it had at no stage compelled any employees to get the vaccine.

The department also said that it had noted with concern misleading reports and misinformation regarding a circular it had distributed to schools last week. It said that the “no jab, no job” narrative was reportedly creating confusion and fear among educators.

At the end of the sector’s vaccination drive, 517, 000 workers out of 582,000 were inoculated, which means the majority of teachers in South Africa have decided to get vaccinated. The department’s Mompati Galorale said that the circular only sought to provide steps that must be taken to accommodate teachers who were not able to get vaccinated for various reasons.

“The teachers do not have to worry about losing their jobs because of the clarification that I’ve given, that it is our duty to inform them of the provisions that are already there in the law, but the department has no intention of laying off of the educators and so forth,” he said.

Ramaphosa to Visit Vaccination Sites in Gauteng Today

Amidst growing calls for President Cyril Ramaphosa to fire his entire security cluster, on Thursday morning he’ll be focusing his attention on COVID-19 vaccines in Gauteng. Ramaphosa is set to visit vaccination sites around Gauteng.

During his latest address to the nation on Sunday, 25 July 2021, Ramaphosa called for the acceleration of the vaccine programme to ensure that the majority of the country’s adult population was vaccinated before the end of the year. Over seven million vaccines have so far been administered across South Africa.

Recently, Ramaphosa lauded what he said were the huge strides made in the country’s vaccine programme as the rollout slowly started to pick up momentum.  South Africa has moved from administering only 100,000 jabs a week to around 200,000 a day.

Ramaphosa has credited this to the close collaboration between the government, the private sector and active support from other social partners. While Ramaphosa is expected to visit various vaccination sites in Gauteng today, his public appearance will no doubt be read as an opportunity, at least by the media, to bring up other pressing matters, including the recent violence which rocked the country’s young democracy.

While talk is growing that a Cabinet reshuffle is imminent, the president himself has not publicly given any indication that this was in fact true.  But through his own Sunday address, he said that steps were being taken to strengthen capacity.

Employers Can Not Fire Unvaccinated Employees – Cosatu

Cosatu said that although it was encouraging all workers affiliated with the union to get vaccinated, it also warned that employers did not have the right to fire anyone who refused to get the jab for whatever reason.

The trade union federation said that there were other avenues available to employers instead of going the extreme route of dismissing their unvaccinated employees.

The spokesperson for Cosatu Sizwe Pamla said that to accommodate legitimate reasons for refusal, employers should try to minimise contact with other workers in the workplace.

“You can accommodate and work outside of ordinary hours, so you can allow that individual to continue to work with an N95 mask now. Otherwise, why are we reopening and saying workers can go back to work,” Pamla said.

Meanwhile, Tony Healy, a labour consultant, said that employers actually did have a leg to stand on when it came to making vaccines mandatory.

“Where there’s a high risk of infection and transmission, that employer would absolutely be entitled to make vaccination compulsory. They would of course still need to go to great lengths to see whether this employee could be accommodated elsewhere but ultimately if they refuse and if the employer can justify the mandatory policy in their environment, then that employee will be entitled to be dismissed and there will no doubt be many test cases on this.”

COVID – 7,773 New Cases with 370 Deaths

There’s been an increase in South Africa’s daily COVID-19 casualties in the past 24-hour cycle. Three hundred and seventy more people have succumbed to Covid related complications and 7,773 tests have come back positive.

The latest fatalities, recorded over the past 24-hour cycle, increase the country’s known death toll to 70,388 and the caseload to just under 2.4 million.

The Health Department also said that as of Tuesday, more than 6.8 million vaccines had been administered since the rollout began earlier this year.

 

 

Fourth Covid Wave Expected Within 3 Months

Experts have warned of an approaching 4th wave of infections just as the 3rd wave appears to have reached its peak.  President Cyril Ramaphosa eased lockdown restrictions this week, citing fewer Covid-19 infections, most notably the decrease in Gauteng. The president, however, cautioned that a slowing in the infection rate does not mean the wave is over but is simply in decline. Some provinces are still experiencing rising numbers.

“There are areas in the country where we still need to be concerned because the rates of infection have not yet shown signs of decline.

“As infections in Gauteng fall, daily new infections in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal continue to rise. There has also been a concerning rise of infections in the Northern Cape after a period of relative stability,” the president said.

This was echoed by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa, whose latest report shows that the country is not yet in a ‘post-wave’ period – meaning the third wave is still very much in effect and could continue for weeks to come.

The NICD’s modeling predicts that most provinces will likely have peaked by early to mid-August, with the third wave ending in early September. But some health experts have now warned that the low numbers of infections could be short-lived – predicting that a fourth wave could start emerging as early as October.

Wits University vaccinologist professor Shabir Madhi and the head of the South African National Aids Council, Dr Fareed Abdullah, both agreed in a report compiled for the Independent Electoral Commission, investigating the feasibility of holding the 2021 local elections at the end of October.

The report included testimony from Madhi and Abdullah warning that the country faces a resurgence of infections in October, largely due to the delayed vaccine rollout. Madhi said that for South Africa to avoid another resurgence, the population would have to reach herd immunity against the virus by September, with at least 80% of the most vulnerable population vaccinated.

At the current rate of vaccination, along with widespread vaccine hesitancy among this population group, this is highly unlikely to be achieved.

Abdullah said that the waves of infection tend to peak six months apart. He said that the fourth wave, in his opinion, is likely to peak sooner rather than later, and warned that by the end of October, the country will be in the early stages of a fourth wave, with cases showing an upward trend once again.

This would put the country on course for a fourth-wave peak somewhere in December 2021.

Another Covid Christmas

Professor Francois Venter, the director of Ezintsha at Wits health sciences, expressed similar sentiments. According to Prof Venter, a fourth outbreak of the coronavirus could hit South Africa around November.

He said that future waves of Covid-19 in South Africa are highly dependent on the vaccine rollout – more than just the numbers, but also which group is being vaccinated. Venter said that the government must pay attention to how many older people are being vaccinated. “Vaccinating one 60-year-old is more important than vaccinating two 35-year-olds,” he said.

This is of particular importance, given the health department’s new target of vaccinating 35 million people by Christmas, and opening up vaccines to people over 35 in August, and those older than 18 in September. According to Venter, while it would be wonderful if 35 million people received a shot by the end of the year, it wouldn’t be good if many people over 50 years old were still not vaccinated. The vaccine rollout was opened to younger population groups after turnout by those over 60, and then over 50, which was considerably lower than anticipated.

The Department of Health meanwhile said that opening vaccines to younger population groups will not overload its system. The department hopes that younger populations will take the older populations with them to get vaccinated.

According to the Department of Health, of the latest distributed shots, 44,470 people received the Johnson & Johnson, while 170,879 received the Pfizer vaccine. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 death toll has now surpassed the 70,000 mark after another 243 people lost their lives to the virus.

 

Covid Cases Drops While Expert Warn Against Imminent Spike

A significant drop in the number of reported positive COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours has been recorded. The latest cycle of 24 hours reported only 5,683 cases compared to the 12,056 cases of the previous cycle. The daily death toll however remains alarmingly high with another 243 Covid-19 related deaths reported, bringing the total death toll to 70,018.

The past few weeks have seen the infection rate soar, with more than 12,000 new infections reported on Sunday alone, and over 20,000 on several days in the past 4 weeks. Cases appear to be decreasing rapidly and it seems that South Africa has passed the peak of the third wave, as was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his address on Sunday, 25 July 2021.

President Ramaphosa however warned that certain provinces have shown a sharp increase in cases which suggests that these provinces, which include the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, are still approaching the peak of the 3rd wave.

Another concern is the effect that the recent violent protests and looting had on testing in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Some experts suggested that cases may once again soar now that calm has been restored and people feel safe enough to be tested in these provinces.

The persistent taxi violence in the Western Cape may also have influenced testing in the province as people avoid traveling along major taxi routes.

The majority of the new cases are still in Gauteng, representing 27%, followed by the Western Cape with 21% and KwaZulu-Natal accounting for only 10%.

Meanwhile, the national vaccination program continues to gain momentum as more and more vaccination sites are opened across South Africa. The next age group is set to open soon and vaccination sites are busier every day.

Recent reports on the efficacy of Ivermectin may also result in more people opting for vaccination rather than self-treatment with the now controversial drug.

Ivermectin Efficacy Disproven By Expert

While the third wave of coronavirus infections continues to plague South Africa, many are waiting for their vaccination against severe illness caused by the virus. Ivermectin is rapidly growing in popularity as a COVID-19 cure or prevention and has been sold by pharmacies and private individuals across South Africa.

Referred to as “COVID pills” – Ivermectin can be bought from illicit sources for about R40 per dose. Local medical experts have however stressed that there is still no evidence to support claims that it is a miracle cure and say more studies must be carried out to prove its clinical benefits in the treatment of COVID-19.

“People are desperate because we’ve had these waves of and if you look at the South African Medical Research Council data of excess deaths between May and 17 July 2021, there’ve been more than 200,000 people who have died and we believe that at least 90% of those excess deaths are also COVID related,” said Professor Helmuth Reuter of Stellenbosch University.

Only around 335 COVID-19 patients so far, through their doctors, are authorized to use Ivermectin to treat the virus through the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority section 21 Controlled Compassionate Use Programme.

While the drug is commonly used to treat parasitic infections in animals, many people are looking to it in the hopes that it can reduce the risk of hospitalisation and build up immune systems to prevent COVID-19. But, Reuter said that research did not support these claims.

“The research shows clearly that it does not have any significant effect on mild disease, moderate disease or severe disease and that it does not prevent deaths or play a role in preventing active disease.”

Medical experts are calling for a more comprehensive study to reach a conclusive finding on the use of Ivermectin in COVID-19. The Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine’s Professor Nombulelo Magula told the media that the absence of evidence was fuelling conspiracy theories.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority urged healthcare practitioners who’ve prescribed Ivermectin to report back to the regulator on the drug’s performance in managing the disease.

Government Helps Struggling Businesses

President Cyril Ramaphosa has on Sunday unveiled plans to assist businesses caught up in the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, and those SMMEs that have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic that has ravaged the country’s economy.

The president eased lockdown restrictions in an address to the nation – imposed a month ago in an attempt to curb the spread of the deadly delta variant of the coronavirus. Ramaphosa also announced the reinstatement of a monthly welfare grant of R350 for the poor until the end of March 2022, along with a R400 million state contribution to the humanitarian relief fund.

A slight improvement in revenue collection has made this possible.

“We are also implementing measures to help businesses to rebuild. The most immediate need is to ensure that those businesses that were damaged or looted are able to rebuild and reopen as quickly as possible,” he said.

Ramaphosa said that South Africa is one of the few countries in the world to have a state-owned insurance company, SASRIA, which provides cover against incidents of public violence, strikes, riots, and national unrest.

SASRIA has committed to expediting the payment of all valid claims and is working together with private insurers, Ramaphosa said, adding that some businesses that were victims of this violence may not have been insured.

“We will not abandon them in their time of need. We are therefore working to extend support to uninsured businesses that were affected by the violence. The government will set aside dedicated funds for this purpose and we will soon announce a mechanism for these businesses to apply for support.”

Pandemic relief

Ramaphosa said that the government will reprioritise funding for SMMEs affected by the pandemic through a once-off business survival funding mechanism.

“We are also working with large businesses to determine their contribution to the support of SMMEs, job creation and eradication of hunger and poverty.”

The UIF will facilitate payments as quickly as possible to support workers who have not received an income.

“Most importantly, the UIF will provide income support to all those employees who have lost jobs as a result of the recent unrest,” the president said. This will ensure that jobs are protected and that workers can continue to earn an income as those businesses take time to rebuild.

“We are expanding the Employment Tax Incentive for a period of four months to include any employee earning below R6,500 and to increase the incentive amount by up to R750 per month.”

This will encourage employers to hire and retain employees, especially those in the retail and hospitality sectors that have been worst affected.

“We will also defer payment of PAYE taxes for a period of three months to provide businesses with additional cash flow, with an automatic deferral of 35% of PAYE liabilities for employers with revenue below R100 million.”

The payment of excise taxes by the alcohol sector will be deferred for a period of three months, to ease the burden on the sector as it recovers following yet another prohibition, the president said.

“These interventions are designed to extend as much relief as possible to individuals and businesses that are in need of support, without compromising our fiscal sustainability.”

Bloomberg reported that the South African economy shrank 7% in 2020, the most in a century, with unemployment at record highs as businesses closed their doors amid a pandemic that has lasted more than 18 months, and is still going strong.

The country’s struggles were exacerbated by the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which lead to violence and looting at the cost of many lives and damage to the industry. The South African Property Owners Association estimates a cost of around R50 billion in lost output while placing 150,000 jobs at risk.

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