COVID-19 WRAP | 'Big jump' in new cases likely to see gatherings restricted: health minister

26 November 2021 - 06:00
By TimesLIVE
Medical staff members transport a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) patient, who is being transferred from a Brno hospital, in Prague, Czech Republic, November 25, 2021.
Image: REUTERS/David W Cerny Medical staff members transport a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) patient, who is being transferred from a Brno hospital, in Prague, Czech Republic, November 25, 2021.

November 26 2021 — 21:09

No jab, no entry: Students and staff at Wits required to be vaccinated

The University of the Witwatersrand will ban unvaccinated people from entering its campuses from next year. Students and staff will have to be jabbed.

The mandatory vaccination policy was announced on Friday as the country is facing a new Covid-19 variant.

The university said it plans to reinvigorate the student experience in 2022 by enabling more social engagement in its precincts, through clubs, societies, and residence life, and by opening up more spaces for students to learn and socialise safely on site.

November 26 2021 — 20:28

WHO designates Covid-19 variant found in SA as 'of concern'

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday designated a new Covid-19 variant detected in SA with a large number of mutations as being “of concern”, the fifth variant to be given the designation.

November 26 2021 — 20:05

'Big jump' in new cases likely to see gatherings restricted: health minister

It is likely that restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings will be implemented due to rapidly rising Covid-19 infections across SA.

This is according to health minister Dr Joseph Phaahla on Friday — though he was at pains to say that nothing has been “concluded” at this stage.

Phaahla was asked during a media briefing whether increased lockdown restrictions would be implemented given the increased cases. He said various meetings were taking place at the weekend to discuss this.

November 26 2021 — 19:50

‘We just want to be together for Christmas’: Family devastated by SA travel ban

South Africans living in the Netherlands hope that the UK's decision to place SA on its travel red list after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant will be lifted soon so they can spend Christmas with their loved ones.

The UK announced that from 2pm (SA time) on Friday, SA, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Namibia will be added to the UK’s travel red list as the new Covid-19 variant is under investigation by the UK Health Security Agency.

Passengers arriving in the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.

November 26 2021 — 19:38

Health department slams 'draconian' decision to impose travel bans on SA

The health department has slammed various countries for their “knee-jerk reactions” by imposing travel bans or restrictions on SA.

Speaking during a briefing on Friday evening, health minister Dr Joseph Phaahla said these decisions were “draconian” and didn’t make scientific sense.

“The leadership of some countries is finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem,” he said.

November 26 2021 — 17:07

Covid-19 hospital admissions rise in Gauteng as new variant rocks SA

The number of hospital admissions for Covid-19 is rising in Gauteng in the wake of the new coronavirus variant.

The number of admitted patients in the province on Thursday were 707 — of whom 312 were at public hospitals and 395 at private facilities.

“The public and private sector 24-hour in-hospital admissions were 626 on November 24, 2021, and increased by 81.

November 26 2021 — 14:44

Borders open for tourists despite new Covid-19 strain: SA Tourism

SA’s borders remain open and the country is ready to welcome leisure tourists and business delegates from all over the world.

This was the message from SA Tourism on Friday as temporary travel bans were imposed in response to a the new Covid-19 variant, B.1.1.529 or Nu.

Confirmation of the new variant detected in SA prompted the UK to add SA and five other Southern African countries to the UK’s travel red list from 2pm on Friday.

November 26 2021 — 13:38

Sunday's Covid command council meeting will decide if you’ll be lonely this Christmas

President Cyril Ramaphosa will chair a meeting of the national coronavirus command council on Sunday to discuss the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant in SA.

On Friday, minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said the outcome of the meeting, as well as discussions in the president’s co-ordinating council and cabinet, would be communicated “in the coming days”.

He said “scientific evidence and submissions by different economic and social sectors [would] inform executive decision-making”.

November 26 2021 — 13:30

The new Covid-19 strain — what we know so far

Health minister said Tshwane metro in Gauteng registered the highest number of infections, with other parts of the province likely to see a rise

November 26 2021 — 11:46

Hospitality, tourism bodies hope 'devastating' UK travel ban will be lifted soon

Organisations in the tourism and hospitality industry have decried the UK's decision to place SA on its travel red list after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant, and expressed hope the ban will be lifted swiftly. 

The UK announced that from 2pm (SA time) on Friday, SA, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Namibia will be added to the UK’s travel red list as the new Covid-19 variant is under investigation by the UK Health Security Agency.

Passengers arriving in the UK from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.

Direct flights from the six countries will be banned until hotel quarantine is up and running from 4am on Sunday.

November 26 2021 — 11:25

EU moves to halt air travel from Southern Africa over new Covid-19 variant

The EU aims to halt air travel from the Southern African region amid rising concern about a new Covid-19 variant detected in SA, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday. 

“The commission will propose, in close co-ordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the Southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” she said in a tweet.

November 26 2021 — 11:02

Government warns against large gatherings involving alcohol as Covid-19 cases spike

As Covid-19 cases spike, the government has urged South Africans to avoid large gatherings, especially those where alcohol consumption is consumed.

Addressing media on Thursday on the outcomes of this week's cabinet meeting, minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said some events were a threat to public safety. 

“Events such as the matric rage and matric farewell after-parties are super-spreaders. Large gatherings, especially those which involve the consumption of alcohol, are a major risk and undermine our efforts to contain the spread of the virus.”

November 26 2021 — 09:30

Germany to declare SA virus variant area — ministry source

Germany will declare SA a virus variant area on Friday after the detection of a new Covid-19 variant there, a health ministry source said.

The decision, which will come into effect from Friday night, will mean airlines will be allowed to fly only Germans to Germany from SA, according to the source. Returning Germans, even those who are vaccinated, will then have to spend 14 days in quarantine.

“This newly discovered variant worries us. That is why we are acting pro-actively and early here,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

“The last thing we need now is a new variant being introduced that causes even more problems.”

The variant — called B.1.1.529 — has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible, South African scientists say.


November 26 2021 — 08:50

More Hungarians need to take Covid-19 booster shots — PM Orban

Hungary needs to increase the number of people taking booster shots against Covid-19 to curb infections, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.

Orban said the government would extend a special campaign making vaccinations available without any prior registration to next week.

He said he would “not exclude anything” but if the spread of the virus can be curbed with vaccines then there would not be need for lockdown measures.


November 26 2021 — 08:50

Gold gains as new Covid-19 variant lifts safe-haven demand

Gold gained on Friday, as concerns over the spread of a newly identified coronavirus variant boosted the metal's safe-haven appeal, although bullion was set for a weekly drop on bets of US Federal Reserve turning more hawkish.

Spot gold rose 0.6% to $1,798.20 per ounce by 0621 GMT. US gold futures advanced 0.8% to $1,798.30.

The variant spreading in SA may evade immune responses and has prompted Britain and a growing number of other countries to hurriedly introduce travel restrictions on the African nation.

Further aiding gold's climb, the dollar index eased 0.2% from a 16-month peak scaled earlier this week, while US benchmark 10-year Treasury yields also weakened.

A weaker dollar reduces gold's cost to buyers holding other currencies.

But the metal was heading for its worst week since Aug. 6 on increased expectations that the Fed could taper its asset purchases and raise interest rates at a faster pace.

A rate hike cycle is generally negative for gold, but we have to keep an eye on this new Covid-19 variant — if it spreads to the US, that could weaken growth and I can't see the Fed hiking rates in that environment,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management.

Reduced stimulus and interest rate hikes tend to push government bond yields up, raising the opportunity cost of non-interest bearing gold.

Michael Langford, director at corporate advisory AirGuide, expects gold to decline further on higher chances of Fed's sticking to tapering timeline.

“The Fed is unlikely to alter its taper timeline as monetary policies are closely intertwined with the government's public sentiment that any change would be negative for their next election prospects, limiting gold's decline.”

Spot silver was steady at $23.57 per ounce. Platinum fell 1.2% to $983.22, while palladium rose 0.8% to $1,874.60. 


November 26 2021 — 08:30

US Covid-19 booster shots surge ahead of holidays

Millions of Americans got Covid-19 booster shots at a near record pace after the Biden administration expanded eligibility last week

November 26 2021 — 08:09

Prof appeals to world to support, not isolate SA for raising alarm on new Covid-19 variant

University of KwaZulu-Natal geneticist professor Tulio de Oliveira has appealed, in a series of tweets, to the world not to isolate SA and the continent for raising the alarm about a worrying new Covid-19 variant.

November 26 2021 — 07:15

New Zealand PM Ardern says prepared for new Covid-19 variants

New Zealand is well prepared for the discovery of new coronavirus variants that may be resistant to vaccines, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday, including the strain currently spreading in SA.

“All of our planning about Covid-19, we have built into it the possibility of variants in the future,” Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference.

“That is why we are maintaining levels of public health protections. It's why we've maintained requirements at our border.”

Britain on Thursday drew attention to a newly identified coronavirus variant  in SA with a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that Covid-19 vaccines are based on.

The discovery of the B.1.1.529 strain, which has more mutations than the highly transmissible Delta variant, prompted Britain to rush in travel restrictions on SA and five neighbouring countries.

Ardern's government, under mounting pressure from the tourism industry and other businesses, announced earlier this week it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated international travellers from April 30. When asked on Friday if the new variant would likely delay that timetable, Ardern said the country will had “a number of inbuilt measures to act as a layer of protection.”

“With all our changes, we constantly monitor what is happening with the pandemic as we go and we'll continue to do that,” she added.

New Zealand's border has been closed for almost two years. Along with its geographic isolation, the South Pacific country enforced some of the tightest pandemic restrictions among OECD nations, limiting the spread of Covid-19 and helping its economy bounce back faster than many of its peers.

Ardern also said New Zealand had already benefited from being able to observe seasonal impacts of the coronavirus in other countries.

“It gives us the ability to see the impact of things like waning immunity, to see what happens with public health restrictions,” Ardern said.”

We are transitioning into a phase now where we see the vaccine do some heavy lifting, but we are maintaining a level of public health restriction.”


November 26 2021 — 07:00

Is food/grocery delivery safe during the pandemic?

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, there has been a boom in home deliveries, as many stay indoors to avoid catching the coronavirus, but are these services safe?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ordering in is safe if the provider follows good personal and food hygiene practices.

All reputable delivery companies have a Covid-19 safety policy from sanitising to offering “drop at the door” options and not handling the actual package themselves.

You can do your part by washing your hands with soap and water after accepting the delivery.

November 26 2021 — 06:29

Nothing could have prepared me for two weeks of Covid-19 hell

It’s long after midnight and I can’t sleep. It’s ironic, really, because this is the first night in two weeks that I’m not gripped by fear of what the darkness will bring, or what new symptoms will stalk me in the morning as soon as I stand up.

Tonight, I’m kept awake by the audacity of feeling OK after two weeks of Covid-19 hell, and I’m haunted by the notion of people gasping for air, turned away from hospitals packed to capacity. I’m haunted by healthcare workers brought to their knees and family members staring blankly at an empty bed occupied just days before by someone now buried in the ground.

We read so much about “deaths” and “recoveries”, but between those two states there are countless people having a nightmare of a time. And yes, there are the asymptomatic lucky fish and those with a mild cough. But you just don’t know how your body will react, and neither do you want to find out.

November 26 2021 — 06:15

Another Covid-19 Christmas on the cards as new variant explodes in SA

The national coronavirus command council will meet at the weekend to discuss whether the Covid-19 lockdown should be intensified after the discovery of a worrying new variant.

Health minister Joe Phaahla said the cabinet would also meet and President Cyril Ramaphosa would discuss the matter with premiers, raising fears of another Covid-19 Christmas under lockdown. 

“From the experience over the last 21 months we can predict how this is going to move. Within the next few weeks this will be all over,” Phaahla told a media briefing on Thursday.

Scientists are concerned the new variant of Sars-Cov2 could spread rapidly, reduce protection from natural immunity and vaccines and cause a hospital crisis ahead of the festive season. 

November 26 2021 — 06:00

UK cancels SA flights over new Covid-19 variant

Britain announced it was temporarily banning flights from SA and five other countries from Friday, and returning British travellers from those destinations would have to quarantine.