COVID-19 WRAP | New variant spreads 50% faster than its predecessor

19 January 2021 - 07:24 By TimesLIVE
Teresinha Conceicao receives the Sinovac coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil January 18 2021.
Teresinha Conceicao receives the Sinovac coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil January 18 2021.
Image: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

January 19 2021 - 22:23

Bells and candlelight to honor 400,000 Covid-19 dead on eve of Trump's White House departure

From the Lincoln Memorial to the Empire State building, landmarks across the United States will be illuminated on Tuesday evening as part of a ceremony led by President-elect Joe Biden to honor the 400,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19.

The commemoration comes just hours before President Donald Trump leaves the White House and hands over a country in crisis.

The ceremony, spearheaded by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will be the federal government's first nod to the staggering death toll from the pandemic.

—Reuters

January 19 2021 - 20:57

Saints alive! Private schools get bust by department for staying open

The Gauteng education department closed two private schools on Tuesday after they defied government’s request to delay reopening until February 15.

One of the schools was St Jeff College in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, that accommodated more than 2,000 pupils from grade R to 10 in a four-storey building.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a staff member said the school had opened on January 13.

January 19 2021 - 19:33

The alcohol ban is working as planned, says health minister Zweli Mkhize

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday that the suspension of alcohol sales has helped in the fight against Covid-19.

While he said he was “not at the point” of making recommendations to either continue or lift the ban, Mkhize said the prohibition on sales and distribution had eased the pressure on health facilities — and has also saved health workers from the abuse that he said they sometimes endure from drunk patients.

“It’s most frustrating and actually disheartening when you’ve got people who are sick, then you have people who are not only avoidable in the causation of their accidents but some of them are abusive and rude to health workers,” Mkhize said.

January 19 2021 - 19:15

Western Cape on downward trend after second Covid peak

It’s official: the Western Cape has come off the peak of the Covid-19 second wave, with most indicators such as hospital admissions, positivity rate, oxygen usage and mortality either starting to decline or to plateau.

The province's head of health, Dr Keith Cloete, said on Tuesday that statistics showed an about 19% drop in active Covid-19 cases in the Cape Town metro and an about 18% decline in rural areas. The test positivity rate had dropped to less than 30% from about 50% late in December.

Addressing journalists during Western Cape premier Alan Winde's weekly digital conference, authorities noted another measure that showed that the province had reached its peak was a drop in reproductive number of infections, which is now below one — while the surge in hospitalisations had stabilised.

January 19 2021 - 18:46

David Mabuza to lead inter-ministerial committee on vaccines

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed his deputy, David Mabuza, to lead the inter-ministerial committee that will oversee everything related to the Covid-19 vaccine.

The appointment will come as a reprieve for Mabuza, whose whereabouts during a time of crisis have been a subject of long controversy.

Ramaphosa announced the appointment during a webinar organised by the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum on Tuesday.

January 19 2021 - 18:20

All primary school pupils can return on February 15, but secondary schools must still stagger classes

Primary schools can allow all pupils to return to school daily from February 15, provided that health and safety measures are followed.

The proposed move is a drastic change from last year when schools followed a rotational timetable that allowed only certain grades to attend class on certain days.

The draft directives state that secondary schools, however, must continue with the differentiated time-tabling model from February 15.

January 19 2021 - 18:08

China defends early actions on Covid-19 after panel report

China on Tuesday defended its early actions taken to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, saying that it immediately notified the World Health Organization and took "the most comprehensive, thorough, strict prevention and control measures".

"Facing the unknown SARS-CoV-2, China immediately notified WHO of the epidemic situation, shared the virus genome sequence at the earliest possible time and took the most comprehensive, thorough, strict prevention and control measures," Sun Yang from China's National Health Commission told WHO's Executive Board.

The remarks come a day after the independent WHO panel said that Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully in January last year to curb cases.

—Reuters

January 19 2021 - 15:38

WHO must be reformed to give it necessary powers - pandemic panel says

The World Health Organization (WHO) is underpowered and underfunded, and must be reformed to give it the resourcing to be more effective, according to an independent panel reviewing the WHO and the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are not here to assign blame, but to make concrete recommendations to help the world respond faster and better in future," the panel's co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, told reporters on a briefing on Tuesday, a day after the panel's interim report was issued

."I do believe that WHO is reformable," she said.

—Reuters

January 19 2021 - 15:06

From back-to-school delays to online learning - here's how we got here

Private schools Curro and Helpmekaar Kollege in Braamfontein have migrated to online learning after the basic education department announced on Friday its decision to delay schools reopening by two weeks.

The delay, which affects public and private schools, will help minimise the movement of people and ease the influx of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, said the department.

Here's a timeline of how we got here:

January 19 2021 - 14:00

WATCH | Spoofs on Covid-19 vaccine 'effects' spark viral social media trend

Conspiracy theories around the Covid-19 vaccines have sparked a global viral social media trend joking about the “effects” of the vaccines.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced that SA has secured 20 million doses of the vaccine which will be delivered during the first half of the year.  The health ministry said on Monday the country would also get nine million doses from Johnson & Johnson.

However, social media and messaging apps have been filled with “warnings” about the vaccines and false information about possible effects.

January 19 2021 - 13:45

Western Cape MEC sends SOS for extra funding to save tourism and hospitality sector

Urgent financial intervention is needed to help the Western Cape’s tourism and hospitality sector survive the extended level 3 lockdown, the province’s finance and economic opportunities MEC David Maynier said on Tuesday.

Maynier said the extended lockdown is a killer blow for many local businesses which have lost out on the summer season.

He called on the national government to extend the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Covid-19 financial support for the extended lockdown period to save jobs and help keep businesses afloat.

January 19 2021 - 12:30

Eskom operations 'disrupted' as 48 contractors test positive for Covid-19

Power utility Eskom says Covid-19 has affected its operations at the Medupi power station, where 48 of 75 contractors have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Despite Eskom's stringent measures to manage the impact of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic on the operations, we are experiencing some impact on operations, including our suppliers,” the company said in a statement.

“For example, at the Medupi power station we have 48 positive cases out of a pool of 75 contractors, which has negatively affected our ability to execute work as planned.”

January 19 2021 - 08:31

Previous coronavirus infection may offer less protection from new variant

Previous infection with the coronavirus may offer less protection against the new variant first identified in SA, scientists said on Monday, though they hope that vaccines will still work.

Studies also found that the new variant binds more strongly and readily to human cells. That helps explain why it seems to be spreading around 50% quicker than previous versions, leading SA epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim said.

The 501Y.V2 variant was identified by SA genomics experts late last year. It has been the main driver of a second wave of national Covid-19 infections, which hit a new daily peak above 21,000 cases earlier this month.

January 19 2021 - 08:12

Why prisoners are a priority in vaccine rollout

Who should be vaccinated against Covid-19 first? While in the main this question is a public health one, it has become a moral and political contentious issue, not just in SA but also in the rest of the world.

Whereas there seems to be no question that front-line health workers must be the first group to receive the vaccine, the inclusion or exclusion of incarcerated people in the next phase has sparked controversy.

Minister of health Zweli Mkhize publicly announced the government’s strategy on the vaccine rollout on January 3. He said the government’s target was to vaccinate 67% of the population to achieve herd immunity through a phased vaccine rollout that will start with the most vulnerable in society.

January 19 2021 - 07:55

'Businesses need every hour to keep their doors open': Cape Town calls for a change in curfew time

The City of Cape Town has written to co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma asking for the current national curfew to be pushed back to 11pm.

Mayoral committee member for economic opportunities and asset management, Alderman James Vos, said a later starting time for the curfew may “save what is left of the hospitality sector”.

January 19 2021 - 07:52

SA's glass packagers face R1.5bn hit from alcohol ban — Consol

SA's glass packaging industry could lose a further R1.5bn in sales if the latest ban on alcohol sales continues for long, the CEO of glass bottle maker Consol said on Monday.

SA has recently banned alcohol sales for the third time as part of efforts to free up space for Covid-19 patients in hospitals burdened with alcohol-related injuries.

The first two bans together resulted in losses of more than R1.5bn to the glass packaging industry, Consol CEO Mike Arnold said in an e-mailed response to questions.

January 19 2021 - 07:48

SA to get 9 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots — health ministry

SA, which has yet to receive its first coronavirus vaccine doses, will be getting 9 million from Johnson & Johnson, the health ministry said on Monday.

The government of Africa's most advanced economy is trying to secure enough Covid-19 vaccines after health workers and scientists criticised it for not moving fast enough to inoculate its people.

The country has recorded more than 1.3 million infections and more than 37,000 deaths related to the virus, the most in Africa.

January 19 2021 - 07:00

Don't call it the 'SA variant', scientists and researchers plead

A group of South African and international scientists have taken a strong stand against calling 501. V2, the latest variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreading like wildfire across the country, “the South African variant”.

Top researchers, who have delved into the variant for the benefit of all, say that it could have begun in any country, and could appear in any country, and labelling it “the South African variant” just because of the country’s in-depth analysis of the variant, is unjust and damaging.

January 19 2021 - 06:00

Seven matric markers die of Covid, 308 test positive while ‘serving the nation’

The department of basic education has confirmed that six matric markers have died of Covid-related complications, while 308 tested positive at marking centres and were sent home.

However, in a statement on Monday afternoon, the Gauteng education department said that a second marker had died in the province - taking the national total to seven.

The department informed teacher unions at a meeting on Saturday that three of those who died were from KwaZulu-Natal and one each from Gauteng, Limpopo and a department of basic education marking centre. This did not include the second Gauteng death.

January 19 2021 - 06:00

'I'll have the vaccine as soon as it's available to me': Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has vowed to be vaccinated against Covid-19 “as soon as one becomes available”.

In a statement the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation issued on Monday, Tutu said it was vital that people took the vaccine.

“Covid-19 has wreaked havoc. It has destroyed lives and livelihoods and it has robbed us of the comfort of family and friends, but we can stop it. We have vaccines. I join many other world leaders in pledging to have a vaccine against Covid-19 as soon as one becomes available to me.

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