COVID-1 WRAP | SA records 1,898 new Covid-19 cases

COVID AFTER TWO YEARS: Health minister says he’s ready to present proposals to ditch the Disaster Management Act

04 March 2022 - 06:00 By TimesLIVE
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People dine at a food stall in Gwangjang Market in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday, March 3, 2022. South Korea kicked off two days of early voting on March 4 as the country battles a record wave of coronavirus infections, while data showed inflation unexpectedly accelerated in February as rising costs weighed on voters.
People dine at a food stall in Gwangjang Market in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday, March 3, 2022. South Korea kicked off two days of early voting on March 4 as the country battles a record wave of coronavirus infections, while data showed inflation unexpectedly accelerated in February as rising costs weighed on voters.
Image: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

March 04 2022 - 20:18

SA records 1,898 new Covid-19 cases

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on Friday reported that 1,898 new Covid-19 cases had been identified in SA.

The update brings the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases in the country since the start of the pandemic to 3,681,437.

Covid-19 statistics for Friday, March 4 2022.Covid-19 statistics for Friday, March 4 2022.Image: NICD“Due to the ongoing audit exercise by the national department of health, there may be a backlog of Covid-19 mortality cases reported. Today, the [department] reports 18 deaths, and of these, two occurred in the past 24—48 hours. This brings the total fatalities to 99,517 to date,” said the NICD.

March 04 2022 - 13:14

SA risks destroying 100,000 vaccine doses by end of March due to slow uptake

About 100,000 doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine are at risk of being destroyed by the end of this month due to slow uptake by citizens, health authorities said on Friday.

SA has recorded the most coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent, but inoculations have slowed and the country has ample vaccine stocks of about 25-million doses.

“There is a risk that about 100,000 doses which will expire by end of March ... may have to be discarded. It will be a sad day if such volumes of doses are discarded. We hope it will not reach that stage,” health minister Joe Phaahla told an online news conference.

He said the department was trying to ramp up inoculations. SA has so far fully vaccinated about 43% of its 40-million adults.

March 04 2022 - 12:44

Most EU women blame Covid pandemic for spike in gender violence -poll

Nearly three out of four European Union women think the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred an increase in physical and psychological violence against them, according to a Eurobarometer poll published on Friday.

The poll, commissioned by the European Parliament ahead of Women's Day on March 8, shows 77% of women in the EU think the pandemic caused a rise in gender violence in their countries, with nine in 10 respondents in Greece and Portugal saying so.

Asked how to tackle the problem, 58% of interviewed women said it should be made easier to report gender violence.

About a third of EU women said the pandemic had a negative impact on their personal income, according to the poll, which is based on a sample of nearly 27,000 women aged 15 or more from all 27 EU countries.

"The results of the Eurobarometer survey confirm what we already know: the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women and girls in myriads of ways," said lawmaker Robert Biedron, who chairs the European Parliament's committee on women's rights and gender equality. 


March 04 2022 - 12:36

Hong Kong retail chains ration staples to curb Covid panic buying

Two of Hong Kong's largest consumer retail chains started rationing some food and drug items on Friday to curb panic buying that has plagued the city over the past week amid fears of a citywide lockdown as Covid-19 cases soar.

Health authorities reported 52,523 new Covid-19 cases on Friday and 136 deaths. This compares with about 100 infections at the start of February and a clean three-month streak of zero cases before the end of December.

It was the third consecutive day that the number of cases topped 50,000. The spread has limited available manpower in the health care system, and for public transport, mall operators, supermarkets and pharmacies.

Supermarket chain ParknShop announced limits of five items per customer on staples such as rice, canned food and toilet paper, while pharmacy Watsons put the same limits on medication for pain, fever and colds.

"Effective today, ParKnShoP and Watsons Hong Kong will impose purchase restrictions on selected products and medication at all stores," Watsons said in a statement.

Both ParknShop and Watsons are units of the Hong Kong listed conglomerate CK Hutchison.

On Wednesday, ParknShop announced shorter opening hours, with some of its 200 branches shutting at 3 p.m. - by which time many shops across the Asian financial hub have been stripped of fresh and frozen meat and vegetables in recent days.

Mall operator HKTV said in an exchange filing on Friday that 20% of its "frontline manpower" was in quarantine.

Separately, Hong Kong's judiciary, citing health risks, said court hearings would be suspended between March 7 and April 11, with some exceptions, including bail applications, as well as cases involving people in custody and juvenile protection.

Hong Kong officials have repeatedly urged people against panic buying this week, saying supplies were adequate.

Amid public complaints of confused official messaging, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said her government had no plan for a "complete lockdown" while it plots compulsory testing of the city's 7.4 million residents.

The government would announce details of the plan when finalised, she said.

The surge in cases and fears of a lockdown have sparked mass departures of people from the city, where authorities are clinging to a "dynamic zero" policy that seeks to eradicate all outbreaks at all costs.

Hong Kong saw a net outflow of more than 71,000 people in February, the most since the beginning of the pandemic, according to government data, compared with 16,879 in December.

On the other hand, bans on flights from nine countries including the United States, Britain and Australia are in place until April 20, leaving some residents who had left temporarily stranded, unable to get back in.

Many restaurants and shops are shuttered, while its Central financial district is eerily quiet and few people are out in normally bustling neighbourhoods.

Highlighting growing public frustration, prominent businessman and government adviser Allan Zeman said on Tuesday the city's international reputation had been "very damaged" and alarm had been created by the confusing messages.

Hong Kong has reported about 400,000 cases of Covid since the coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and some 1,500 deaths, far fewer than many other cities. Most infections and deaths were recorded in the past month. 


March 04 2022 - 09:26

Children aged 10 to 14 have highest rate of positive Covid-19 tests

The highest Covid-19 positivity rate is now among children between 10 and 14.

This was announced on Friday by health minister Joe Phaahla, who said a 21% positivity rate in this age group is “obviously worrying”.

Phaahla told a heath department media briefing experts initially believed the spike in cases among children could be due to schools opening but “the trend has persisted”.

Also of concern is that more than 10-million cases have been registered globally in the last week, as well as an official death toll in a week of 60,000 with the actual number likely being much higher.

“This shows us that Covid-19 is still ravaging the world,” said Phaahla, adding that Omicron is highly dominant.

Health virtual media briefing on government efforts in the fight against Covid-19

March 04 2022 - 07:00

How will the Russia and Ukraine conflict affect vaccines and PPE supply to Africa?

While SA authorities have long said there is sufficient vaccines in stock to give those in need the jab, there have been concerns that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine may affect the supply of Covid-19 vaccines and PPE to the continent.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa region said this week the mid- and long-term affect of the conflict on vaccines and PPE is still unknown.

It said it is difficult to predict what shortages in supplies may occur.

March 04 2022 - 06:50

‘I am tired of being one of many masked faces’: the faces on the front line

“I am awaiting the day I can wear lipstick again and be maskless so my patients can put a face to the doctor that has been looking after them. I am tired of being one of many masked faces.”

So says Dr Taheera Hassim, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Life Sunninghill in Johannesburg.

She is one of countless health workers who have been on the front lines of Covid-19 since the first case was declared on March 5 2020.

“I saw my first extremely ill Covid patient in April 2020 and then I realised that this was not to be taken lightly,” Hassim said. 

March 04 2022 - 06:40

Blind flight: brief history of Covid treatments, hopes and snake-oil cures

As the coronavirus pandemic roiled across the globe and people began to get very ill and die, the search for a viable cure kicked into high gear.

It has been a now two-year quest during which scientists, doctors and medical researchers, as well as a number of con artists, rolled out already available drugs in an attempt to cure people of the disease.

“We faced a new virus which didn’t have a treatment, and when that happens you look at what antivirals are available off the shelf that perhaps didn’t work elsewhere,” Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen Pharmacare’s group senior executive for strategic trade said. “Very often with a new virus it does respond to a product developed for a different virus. You also look at drugs that are not antivirals but that you could repurpose.”

March 04 2022 - 06:30

Remember when we couldn’t buy short pants or ciggies?

South Africans have been through a lot in the past two years. From the first Covid-19 case on March 5 2020 we’ve had “family meetings” with President Cyril Ramaphosa, been ordered indoors unless absolutely necessary, told we could only buy booze from Mondays to Thursdays (if we could do so at all). We even had a song produced about “when people zol”, in response to the reasoning behind the controversial cigarette ban.

When Covid-19 hit SA, the government went into overdrive in its bid to curb the spread of the virus, often causing mass confusion and, in the longer term, huge economic hardship. Some of the most bizarre moments of the past two years are worth revisiting.

March 04 2022 - 06:20

We did more things right than wrong: Prof Salim Abdool Karim

Prof Salim Abdool Karim was hiking in the Drakensberg in December 2019 when he first received news of a mysterious respiratory disease that had emerged in China.

But the former head of the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) dismissed it as the SARS virus and believed China would have a handle on it. That was until geneticist Prof Tulio de Oliveira, who operates in the same building as him, raised the alarm about SARS-CoV-2 about a month later.

It was then that Abdool Karim, a world-renowned epidemiologist and head of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in SA (Caprisa), sprang into action.

March 04 2022 - 06:15

Then vs now: what we’ve learnt about the virus and vaccines

When a “novel coronavirus” first reared its head in China in late 2019, there was little idea of how it would spread over the next two years.

Images of civilians in masks and a wet market in Wuhan were as foreign as it could be to those on the tip of Africa. It wouldn’t make its way here, surely?

Come March 5, however, the news broke: a South African man just back from Italy had tested positive. So began a two-year rollercoaster ride of peaks and troughs, death and disease, evolving ideas of transmission and an ominous trip through letters of the Greek alphabet as each emerging variant presented a newly weaponised enemy.

With no road map of what lay ahead, scientists and clinicians were left to the mercy of their own research.

March 04 2022 - 06:05

Wearing masks outdoors makes ‘no sense’ any more

It may be time for South Africans to ditch wearing masks outdoors, where the possibility of contracting Covid-19 is relatively low compared with indoor spaces.

So say health experts who participated in a webinar titled “Covid-19: What’s Next?”,  hosted by the University of KZN’s health sciences department this week.

Facilitated by deputy vice-chancellor of research and innovation Prof Mosa Moshabela, the webinar included the input of Dr Richard Lessels, an infectious diseases specialist at the KZN Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (Krisp) and ministerial advisory committee member on vaccines, and Dr Nokukhanya Msomi, a clinical virologist who heads the UKZN’s virology department and the National Health Laboratory Service — KZN.

March 04 2022 - 06:00

There’ll be one more family meeting, and it will contain good news

For two years, South Africans were filled with nervous anxiety when President Cyril Ramaphosa was scheduled to address what became known as a “family meeting”. Would he ban booze again, tighten the country’s lockdown, prevent us from going to church — or would he give us increased freedoms as we started to come to grips with the coronavirus?

Now, as we mark the two-year anniversary of South Africa’s first Covid-19 case, minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele has confirmed the next time Ramaphosa speaks to the nation about the virus, it will be about “something else”.

Exactly what this means isn’t clear, but speculation is rife it will be the formal dropping of the state of disaster, more than 700 days after it was put in place.

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