Maverick Citizen

CORONAVIRUS DAILY DIGEST #80

SA launches first coronavirus vaccine trial while Eastern Cape healthcare buckles under the pressure

Gravedigger Romio Bardman at work in the Graaff Reinet graveyard, where he has seen three Covid-19 victims buried. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

On Tuesday, all eyes were on the Eastern Cape. Nelson Mandela Bay is expecting a surge in new infections just as it reaches capacity in most of its hospitals. Meanwhile, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize opened a new field hospital. Activists in the province have managed to distribute information about Covid-19 in isiXhosa to 200 villages via WhatsApp. The country’s first clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine was launched, while Parliament was bustling with Q&A sessions.

Swipe through the gallery below to view the latest Covid-19 numbers available on 23 June at the district level. All maps are sourced from provincial health departments; however, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape did not provide an update by the time of publishing:

It is expected that Covid-19 cases in Nelson Mandela Bay will double in the next 10 days – as hospitals in the city resorted to implementing emergency plans from Monday. As Estelle Ellis writes, the city’s healthcare system is buckling under the pressure of increased demand for its limited supply of ICU beds and a rising number of healthcare professionals falling ill themselves.

In addition, all private hospitals have stopped non-urgent surgeries and admissions, with some bringing in staff from other provinces.

The provincial department of health says the steady increase in infections in the metro is driven by poor adherence to precautionary measures such as washing hands, wearing a mask in public and keeping to physical distancing guidelines.

The city needs to urgently set up an operations committee made up of business, healthcare facilities, civil society, the university and trade unions, urged the dean of the Department of Health Sciences at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Lungile Pepeta.

However, all is not lost. Pepeta says the university’s nursing and Emergency Medical Services students are keen to start helping. The province’s testing backlog has been reduced and tests have a turnaround time of between 48 and 72 hours, as opposed to up to 21 days last month. The first phase of a field hospital sponsored by the German government is due to open in the city on Tuesday to provide another 1,485 beds.

Meanwhile, networks of activists have linked up in the Eastern Cape to provide and spread reliable information and advice on Covid-19 in vernacular isiXhosa via WhatsApp messages. The coalition is made up of activists, students, academics and farmers and has reached about 200 rural villages. Read their mission statement and progress update here.

South Africa, and the continent’s, first clinical trial of a Covid-19 vaccine was officially launched on Tuesday. The University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University are collaborating to test the vaccine on 2,000 participants in Covid-19 hotspots for a year. Nonetheless, the team hopes to have an answer on the outcome by the end of 2020. The first group of participants will be vaccinated this week.

It was a busy day in Parliament on Tuesday. Representatives from KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Western Cape, North West and Limpopo reported on their Covid-19 strategies in the National Council of Provinces. Meanwhile, the National Assembly fielded questions to the Economic Cluster. DM

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