Covid-19 wrap: US begins first human trial of coronavirus vaccine

16 March 2020 - 13:25 By TimesLIVE
Airports Company SA (Acsa) intensified measures at Cape Town International Airport on March 12 2020 by putting up notice boards and stickers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Airports Company SA (Acsa) intensified measures at Cape Town International Airport on March 12 2020 by putting up notice boards and stickers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

US begins first human trial of coronavirus vaccine

The first human trial to evaluate a candidate vaccine against the new coronavirus has begun in Seattle, US health officials said Monday, raising hopes in the global fight against the disease.

But it may be another year to 18 months before it becomes available, once it has passed more trial phases to prove it works and is safe.

The vaccine is called mRNA-1273 and was developed by US National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists and collaborators at biotechnology company Moderna, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Idris Elba tests positive for Covid-19: I have no symptoms so far

Marvel actor Idris Elba set social media abuzz with news that he's tested positive for coronavirus on Monday night. 

"This morning I tested positive for Covid-19. I feel okay, I have no symptoms so far but have been isolated since I found out about my possible exposure to the virus. Stay home people and be pragmatic. I will keep you updated on how I’m doing No panic," he captioned a video on Twitter. 

All ANC conferences postponed for three months

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that all ANC conferences at regional and provincial levels will be postponed for the next three months.

This includes the ANC's much-anticipated mid-term policy review conference, the national general council (NGC), which will not sit as scheduled "until further notice".

This follows a meeting of the ANC national working committee (NWC) on Monday at Irene, south of Pretoria, where the party briefed government deployees on the pandemic.

Have smaller weddings, funerals and gatherings, urges CRL commission

The Commission for Cultural‚ Religious and Linguistic (CRL) Rights on Monday called on South Africans to heed the call to have smaller gatherings in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement, commission chairperson Prof David Mosoma appealed to communities to keep their funerals, weddings, unveilings, baptismal services and stokvels to limited numbers.

He extended the same plea to churches, synagogues, mosques and those hosting celebrations for traditional purposes, saying the number of those attending should be kept below 100.

'Selfish and wasteful' shoppers clear shelves of food and supplies

President Cyril Ramaphosa's grave announcement on Sunday night appears to have switched many coronavirus fence-sitters into full-on paranoid mode, with a sharp increase reported in online grocery sales and panic buying clearing many supermarket shelves.

Shoprite said there has been a definite increase in orders via its app Sixty60. “Following last night’s announcement of the national state of disaster, order volumes have today spiked beyond all expectations,” said the company.

The app, which has been in trial phase since November in parts of Gauteng and Cape Town, is “looking at ways to increase capacity to accommodate the increase in orders”, it added.

Restaurants and theatres closed, but SANParks to still welcome visitors

While restaurants and theatres announced on Monday that they would be shutting their doors amid the coronavirus outbreak in SA, South African National Parks (SANParks) will continue to welcome visitors.

SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni said they would continue to prioritise the wellbeing of their staff and visitors.

“It is for this reason that we are introducing measures to enhance hygiene protocols, in accordance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. We are taking extra measures to enhance cleaning and hygiene protocols in all our parks. Furthermore, we are working closely with a team of experts from the health and tourism sector to assess and guide interventions of a daily basis,” he said.

SA man stranded on cruise ship due to Covid-19 fears

At least six South African passengers are stuck aboard a cruise liner that is being refused entry to San Antonio, Chile, due to fears about the coronavirus.

An undisclosed number of South African crew are also stuck aboard the Celebrity Eclipse, a 3,000-passenger cruise liner that left Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 2 for what was supposed to be a 13-day trip.

The pleasure cruise has since turned into a nightmare after the Chilean government last week prohibited the docking of cruise liners, due to ongoing jitters about the pandemic.

Bundesliga suspended until April 2 due to coronavirus

The 36 clubs in Germany’s two top divisions have accepted the proposal by the German Football League (DFL) to put the competitions on hold until April 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the DFL’s chief executive said on Monday.

The Bundesliga and second-tier sides agreed on the move during a general meeting in Frankfurt and will come together again in April to make another decision.


Work on Notre-Dame in Paris halted by coronavirus

Restoration work on the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris was halted by the French authorities on Monday because of the coronavirus.

Workers at the historic landmark in the centre of the French capital had been dismantling the molten metal scaffolding around the spire of church, which collapsed in the catastrophic blaze last year.

Officials told AFP that decontamination measures set in place to deal with danger from the huge quantities of lead that melted in the fire were not compatible with rules set down to deal with the coronavirus.

France has closed down all schools, theatres, cinemas and shops not selling “non-essential” items such as food in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.


Coronavirus now in Tanzania, Somalia as East Africa starts closures

Tanzania and Somalia on Monday became the latest East African countries to confirm their first cases of coronavirus, as neighbouring countries shuttered borders and schools as fears of contagion rose.

A 46-year-old Tanzanian woman tested positive for the illness after returning from Belgium on March 15, where she had been staying with a relative sick with coronavirus.

Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said the woman, who was recovering in hospital in Arusha, was not detected by temperature scanners but reported herself for testing.

Somalia, meanwhile, also confirmed its first case of coronavirus and announced a ban on international flights in and out of the country, starting from Wednesday. The government had quarantined four Somalis as a precaution after they arrived from countries with coronavirus outbreaks, and one had subsequently tested positive.

The announcements from Tanzania and Somalia came as Rwanda confirmed four more cases of the virus, after reporting its first on Saturday. 


Public protector suspends walk-ins at all offices countrywide

The public protector has suspended walk-ins at all 19 offices nationwide in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Busisiwe Mkhwebane has also cancelled public events she was scheduled to address at the University of Mpumalanga in Mbombela and an outreach clinic in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, on Thursday.

Mpumalanga hospital closed over Covid-19

The Busamed Lowveld Private Hospital in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, has been closed to the public over concerns regarding a case of Covid-19.

The hospital said on Monday that it would limit public access to the facility as a precautionary measure to ensure that the correct protocol was implemented.

According to hospital manager Andre Oosthuizen, all people who have been in close contact with the confirmed case at the hospital have been notified and are in self-quarantine.

Cruise ship to sail from Durban amid coronavirus fears

A MSC cruise vessel is set to depart from Durban harbour on Monday afternoon as efforts are ramped up by the government to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The cruise operator issued a statement indicating it was aware of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to limit travel and avoid gatherings of more than 100 people, but said it was not necessarily banned from operating.

Uber to pay drivers who can't work

Uber South Africa will provide financial assistance for up to 14 days of no work for drivers and delivery staff diagnosed with Covid-19 or placed under quarantine by a public health authority.

In response to the coronavirus, the e-hailing company will provide financial help to drivers and delivery staff who are also personally asked to self-isolate by a public health authority or licensed medical provider, or have been exposed to someone diagnosed with the virus.

Some churches cancel services, others still undecided

Two big churches have confirmed they will discontinue services in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, while other groups have not made their plans clear.

The Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, led by Shepherd Bushiri, has postponed all church services until further notice, effective immediately.

Rhema Bible Church North has also suspended its Sunday church gatherings.

No visible plan to contain spread of coronavirus in taxis, buses

Thousands of commuters interacted as usual with taxi drivers at the Wanderers and Bree Street ranks in Johannesburg on Monday, despite calls for heightened hygiene practices to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

SA has recorded at least 62 cases of Covid-19, and on Sunday evening President Cyril Ramaphosa announced drastic measures on containing the spread of the virus, which he declared a national disaster.

However, there was no signs of any special measures implemented by local transport providers during a visit to the two busy taxi ranks and a bus station.

Street vendors at taxi ranks prepared meals and served customers as usual. Taxi marshalls called out the names of various destinations and directed commuters to the correct queues, sometimes helping with their luggage. Handshakes were prevalent.

Counselling offered to families of 4 South Africans not evacuated from China

The families of four South Africans left behind in China after displaying symptoms of Covid-19 are being given counselling, the department of health said on Monday.

The four were supposed to have joined the group recently evacuated from Wuhan, but shortly before departing were made to stay behind.

Department spokesperson Dr Lwazi Manzi said while the four showed concerning symptoms, it did not necessarily mean that they would test positive for the virus.

Government unpacks measures to deal with Covid-19

As part of the state of national disaster, the government has announced a number of measures to deal with Covid-19. 

At least 15 government ministers addressed journalists on Monday. 

The ministers explained in more detail how these urgent measures will affect South Africans. 

Click here to see the measures.

Hotel groups take steps to protect guests and staff from Covid-19 

Hotel groups have taken steps to counter the spread of coronavirus.

Sun International said the prohibition on mass gatherings of more than 100 people, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday, will mean upcoming shows and events will have to be postponed.

Legacy Hotels and Resorts said it had started implementing precautionary measures across all of its properties in SA, Namibia, Ghana and Gabon.

It said all staff are temperature-tested daily before work.

Limpopo man tests positive for coronavirus

Limpopo reported its first Covid-19 infection on Monday.

The department of health said the person was a 29-year-old man who had travelled to France and the Netherlands.

PSL postponed

The Premier Soccer League has suspended this week's Absa Premiership matches, but not yet the league or all domestic professional football, PSL chairman Irvin Khoza announced on Monday.

The PSL will hold a meeting on Thursday regarding any further decisions, including a potential suspension of the league. 

Government considers state of emergency

Health minister Zweli Mkhize and justice minister Ronald Lamola have confirmed that if the coronavirus situation deteriorates, the South African government may consider declaring a state of emergency.

A number of ministers who form part of government’s response to the virus addressed the media on Monday morning on the measures announced by Ramaphosa on Sunday evening.

The council will be meeting at least three times a week and will also consist of senior government officials who will be released from some of their responsibilities as government looks to arrest a wide scale outbreak in the country.

Mkhize and Lamola emphasised that the declaration of a national disaster was the first step to try contain the spread of the virus.

Lamola said that the disaster management act enabled the government to suspend or limit some of the rights of citizens enshrined in the constitution.

Ramaphosa announced that gatherings of more than 100 were now prohibited and schools will be closing.

Mkhize also explained the high risk that comes with local transmission.

“Once this infection spreads in taxis, trains, informal settlements, it will create a new dynamic. We will need to create quarantine facilities if necessary. It means some might have to move out their homes.”

11 new cases in SA

Since the the Covid-19 outbreak, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the NHLS laboratories and private laboratories have conducted a total of 2,405 tests to date. As of Monday, the NICD confirmed 11 new Covid-19 cases. This brings the total of South African cases to 62.

The 11 new cases are distributed in the Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape and comprise of the following:


  • A 33-year-old male who travelled to Spain
  • A 68-year-old female who travelled to Austria
  • A 30-year-old male who travelled to India
  • A 39-year-old male who travelled to the US
  • A 43-year-old female who travelled to the US
  • A 50-year-old male who travelled to France and the UK
  • A 37-year-old who travelled to the US, Dubai and Mexico

Western Cape

  • A 39-year-old male who travelled to Canada
  • A 15-year-old male who travelled to France


  • A 29-year-old male who travelled to France and the Netherlands


  • A 55-year-old male who travelled to France

The 11 patients have since been isolated and are receiving care. 

The NICD added that there are two cases of local transmission.

Nearly 1,000 new cases in Spain in 24 hours

Spain has registered nearly 1,000 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of cases to 8,744, the health ministry said on Monday.

Over the same period, the number of deaths rose by nine to 297, the ministry’s emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said.

The figure for new cases was lower than weekend numbers, when 2,000 infections were detected between Saturday and Sunday and the number of deaths rose by around 100. Of the total number, Madrid remains the worst-affected region, with 4,665 cases.

In order to rein in the virus, Spain has declared a state of alert, shutting all but essential services and ordering its population of 46-million people to stay at home. People are only authorised to go out to buy food or medicine, to go to work or to get medical treatment.


Grade R pupil tests positive: Richards Bay school in lockdown

A Grade R pupil at Richards Bay Primary School in northern KwaZulu-Natal has tested positive for Covid-19.

Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu confirmed the school was on lockdown after 17 pupils in the same class began showing potential symptoms of infection.

“We can confirm one Grade R leaner from Richards Bay Primary tested positive. We understand her mother works at one of the banks and deals with the foreign exchange of money.”

Netcare warns against criminals claiming to test for coronavirus

In a press release, Netcare said it is aware that criminals are going to homes claiming to be from Netcare or Netcare 911, and saying that they are assisting the department of health with door-to-door screening for Covid-19.

It reiterated that staff members from the Netcare Group, including from Netcare hospitals, Netcare 911 or Medicross medical and dental centres, are not doing door-to-door Covid-19 screening.

Should someone arrive at your home or business premises claiming to do screening for the novel coronavirus, do not allow them onto the property and alert the SAPS.

Business supports Ramaphosa’s coronavirus plan

Organised business has pledged its full support for the measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa to combat Covid-19 and has called on its members to contain the virus.

“The president has made it clear what needs to be done, and we are all compelled to support him, as well as to reinforce the excellent leadership and management shown by health minister Zweli Mkhize and key health stakeholders such as the World Health Organisation,” said Sipho Pityana, president of Business Unity South Africa.

“We are urging our member organisations to ensure that the president’s measures are implemented as speedily as possible, and to increase awareness and positive action wherever possible. The president also referred to the potentially damaging impact on our economy that the Covid-19 virus will have. This will exacerbate the economic crisis we are already experiencing, and business will work with government and labour to pull resources and capacity together to mitigate the economic, health and social risks posed by the virus.”

Ghana closes schools, bans gatherings over coronavirus

Ghana on Monday closed all schools and universities and suspended public events to stop the spread of coronavirus as a string of African nations imposed tighter restrictions to stem the spread of the global pandemic.

President Nana Akufo-Addo announced in an address to the West African nation that the authorities were shutting schools and universities “until further notice”. Public gatherings — including conferences, religious services, sports matches and political rallies — have also been suspended for four weeks, he said.

Ghana on Sunday announced it would start barring entry to the country from Tuesday for any non-Ghanaian citizen or resident “who, within the last 14 days, has been to a country that has recorded at least 200 cases”.


Liberia reports first coronavirus case

Liberia has recorded its first coronavirus case, a ministry official said on Monday.

“I can confirm that we have a case and we are managing it,” Chief Medical Officer Francis Kateh said. He did not provide any further details on the patient’s identity.

President George Weah is expected to make a speech later in the day.

— Reuters

Malaysia reports 125 new coronavirus cases

Malaysia reported 125 new coronavirus cases on Monday, with most linked to a religious gathering attended by about 16,000 people.

The new cases bring the total tally to 553 in the country, which remains the worst affected in Southeast Asia.

— Reuters

Iran says coronavirus kills member of top clerical body

Iran’s coronavirus outbreak on Monday killed a member of the clerical body that appoints the supreme leader, state media said, taking the death toll among serving and ex-officials to at least 12.

Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani, who was 78, died two days after testing positive for the Covid-19 disease and being hospitalised, state news agency IRNA reported.

The official represented Tehran in the Assembly of Experts, an 88-strong body of clerics that appoints and monitors Iran’s supreme leader. At least 12 Iranian politicians and officials, both sitting and former, have now died of the illness, and 13 more have been infected and are either in quarantine or being treated.

The virus also killed a prominent economist and political activist on Monday, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA. Fariborz Rais-Dana, 71, succumbed to the illness after being hospitalised for six days, ISNA reported.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which so far has infected nearly 14,000 people and killed over 720, according to official figures.


Belgium finally agrees government — to fight virus

After more than a year without a full government, Belgium’s bickering parties have agreed to back caretaker prime minister Sophie Wilmes and give her “special powers” to fight the coronavirus.

Attempts to negotiate a new ruling coalition will be suspended for six months so that 10 parties — excluding the Dutch-speaking far-right and the French far-left — can unite behind her effort.

Belgium’s King Philippe must give his accord and then parliament will hold a confidence vote on Thursday. “From a government overseeing current business, we’ll head into a government with full authority ... a government with a limited programme,” Senate President Sabine Laruelle said.

The coronavirus is spreading quickly in Belgium, with 886 cases recorded by Sunday, 300 more than two days previously.


US airlines slash flights over virus crisis

US airlines have announced drastic reductions in flights after President Donald Trump’s administration banned foreign travellers arriving from Europe.

United Airlines said it would announce a cut in capacity of about 50% for April and May, as the US ramps up restrictions to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“We also now expect these deep cuts to extend into the summer travel period,” said CEO Oscar Munoz and company president Scott Kirby in a letter to employees published on the airline’s website on Sunday.

In the first half of March — usually the busiest month of the year — United had “welcomed more than one-million fewer customers on board our aircraft than the same period last year.”

The airline has begun speaking to unions “about how to reduce our payroll expense,” it said, acknowledging this would be “painful” but that senior staff had already been told their salaries would be halved.

American Airlines said it would reduce all international capacity by 75%. “This suspension will last through May 6,” the carrier said. “This change is in response to decreased demand and changes to US government travel restrictions due to coronavirus.”

Its competitor Delta said it would “significantly reduce its US to Europe flying beginning on Monday, after the US government directive restricting travel between the US and Europe.”

Southwest Airlines said it “will likely make service reductions based on demand.”