Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS WEEKLY DIGEST #142

South Africa’s quest for a vaccine continues 

Maverick Citizen’s Coronavirus Daily Digest has changed format to a Coronavirus Weekly Digest. Each Friday morning, the digest will summarise highlights from the previous week’s news about the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.

On Wednesday, South Africa paused its trial of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca, a British drugmaker, took the recommendation to pause the trial after an independent data and safety monitoring committee raised a red flag when a participant in the UK fell ill. 

The South African arm of the trial is led by Wits University and is overseen by the same committee, therefore researchers decided to press pause too. Numerous South African health experts, some participants in the trial themselves, have explained that this forms part of standard scientific procedure. In addition, they say it should boost confidence in the researchers’ commitment to safety and quality. Read how this process works and how it applies to this trial here.

South Africa’s access to a future safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine is not yet secure. The deadline to fully commit to COVAX is coming up shortly. South Africa and all 53 other African countries have signed up to make sure they can access safe and effective vaccines at a better price. However, as Adèle Sulcas explains, it is not yet clear cut what South Africa will get out of the deal. 

Meanwhile, the lead researcher in both of South Africa’s vaccine trials Professor Shabir Madhi has warned that Africa is likely at the back of the queue for a Covid-19 vaccine. He explains that barriers include limited manufacturing capabilities, cost and supply-chain constraints and a lack of clinical trials on the continent. In addition, the continent’s low testing rate weakens its argument for urgent access. As Sandisiwe Shoba writes, the COVAX project is seen as one way of ensuring equal access.

The pandemic is seemingly waning 

There are early signs that the pandemic might be letting up in Southern Africa, however, it may not be as rosy as some graphs depict. Testing continues to be a major hurdle for many countries, making it harder to assess the state of an outbreak and how to respond. Arnold Tsunga, Tatenda Mazarura and Mark Heywood write that those southern African countries with higher testing numbers are those which have stronger economies and more stable governments. They unpack the situation in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

When the Western Cape’s outbreak peaked at the end of July 2020, there were 95 people on ventilators. By the beginning of September, there were 47. Mechanical ventilation is often the last resort to help Covid-19 patients get oxygen into their lungs after less invasive measures fail. 

A team at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town had intubated about 500 patients by the end of August and found it to be a successful way to manage critical cases. Tiyese Jeranji spoke to paramedic Nolusindiso Dayile about the nine days she spent on a ventilator and also the lead of the hospital’s Covid Airway and Anaesthesia team, Professor Ross Hofmeyr, about how and why it worked in that hospital.

A recent survey has shown that fewer South Africans reported feeling stressed, depressed, frustrated or sad after two months of lockdown compared to when it began. Furthermore, the decrease was significantly more among black South Africans compared to whites. The researchers from the University of Johannesburg and Human Sciences Research Council unpack the data and why this might be. 


Another survey has revealed that South African’s sense of ubuntu and optimism that the pandemic and lockdown could promote solidarity has decreased since the start of lockdown. This change was seen across the board, according to researchers from the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council. They explain why this shift happened and reflect on its implications.

 

The economic toll of lockdown is quantified 

On Tuesday, Statistics South Africa said that gross domestic product shrank 51% during the second quarter – that is, between April and June 2020 when the country was under a hard lockdown. This was a 17.1% contraction compared to 2019. In addition, this was the fourth straight quarter of economic decline. As Ed Stoddard writes, the only sector that saw any growth during this time was agriculture, with a 15% increase. 

On Thursday, Statistics South Africa released another batch of data focused on the impact of the lockdown on manufacturing and mining production. Manufacturing saw a 7.6% increase in production between June and July, while mining saw an increase in 20.28%. Ed Stoddard puts these figures in context. 

Meanwhile, business confidence has rebounded somewhat. In Quarter 2, the RMB/BER Business Confidence Index was at an all-time low of five out of 100. It now stands at 23. Ed Stoddard unpacks what this means. 

On Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa described the economy as being “in a real terrible state”, but that an economic recovery plan is being “panel beaten”. He was speaking during a briefing with the South African National Editors’ Forum. He said the government has “largely run out of money”, but will have to “cobble the money together” from private and public funding. 

He emphasised that implementation is essential in moving forward with this plan, which is currently in the making at the National Economic Development and Labour Council. 

On the further easing of lockdown, he said the National Coronavirus Command Council is considering more proposals. He confirmed that he will address the nation again next week. As Marianne Merten writes, Ramaphosa is seemingly growing impatient with the slow pace of things – from fixing ailing infrastructure to releasing more spectrum. 

The District Six Museum in Cape Town has asked the public for donations to keep its doors open. It had no income during lockdown and doesn’t expect visitor numbers to increase in the next six months. As Suné Payne writes, the museum’s acting director is not only concerned about a lack of revenue, but also the missed opportunities for shared experiences in the museum. 

Independent Media has proposed permanently cutting staff salaries by up to 20% from October 2020. The cuts were made during the lockdown and are still in place. In addition, management of the company has put forward the possibility of disbanding the group’s pension and provident funds. As Sasha Planting writes, COO Takudzwa Hove wrote in an email to staff that the lockdown and poor economy are to blame for the state of the company’s financial health. 

Covid-19 corruption goes under the microscope again

On Thursday, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala released the details of owners and directors of Covid-19 suppliers who received contracts from the province. This was a “follow-up” to the province’s Covid-19 Procurement Disclosure Report released in August. As Des Erasmus writes: “Those expecting a ‘name and shame’ report are sure to be disappointed with Zikalala’s latest release, vaunted as increasing transparency in the province.” DM/MC

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