CORONAVIRUS WEEKLY DIGEST #12

Provinces raise the red flag over resurgences as vaccine deals take shape

By Christi Nortier 27 November 2020

This week there has been a resurgence of Covid-19 infections in the Eastern and Western Cape. Meanwhile, China is considering supplying Covid-19 vaccines to South Africa. And NSFAS students will have to wait until 2021 to receive the laptops promised to them seven months ago.

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.

SA lays the groundwork to authorise future Covid-19 vaccines

In the past two weeks at least three potential Covid-19 vaccines have proved to be highly effective. However, they might not be appropriate for use in South Africa. It’s up to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to review and approve each for use in South Africa when the time comes. And preparations to fast-track this four-year process have already begun. Catherine Tomlinson explains the different ways this might happen.

Nevertheless, vaccinating millions of South Africans will be no easy task. James Stent and Nathan Geffen explore whether our health system has embarked on a project of this scale before, if it has the capacity to make the vaccines and who might be first in line to receive them.

China considers supplying Covid-19 vaccines to SA

In addition to Covax, China will consider providing its Covid-19 vaccines to South Africa directly, according to President Xi Jinping and the country’s new ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong. China will offer this assistance to other African states and BRICS countries too. As Peter Fabricius writes, China has committed to continue providing personal protective equipment and share medical expertise about the pandemic.

Nelson Mandela Bay’s Covid-19 count keeps going up

Nels0n Mandela Bay began this week with an incidence risk of 499.3/100,000. On Sunday, it confirmed 941 new cases and accounted for 42% of the entire country’s new cases. In addition, it was revealed that one in four patients being treated for Covid-19 in hospitals died. However, the metro’s main Covid-19 hospital has still not opened its 73-bed Covid-19 ward despite it being created five months ago.

This news came as compliance officers from the Eastern Cape Liquor Board and law enforcement officials visited numerous taverns. They discovered hundreds of people partying without masks, physical distancing or hand sanitiser. The board issued compliance notices and has threatened to suspend licences if nothing changes within 30 days, reports Estelle Ellis.

Western Cape government raises the red flag again

The Western Cape is officially seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 infections after the number of active cases increased by more than 20% over the past few weeks, according to premier Alan Winde on Wednesday. There is community transmission across the board, but it is driven by the Garden Route and Cape metro districts. They have both been issued a hotspot alert. Winde said he is concerned about the province’s health system, which is under increasing pressure. He pleaded with residents to play their part to prevent another lockdown. Read his statement in full here.

At a press briefing Winde said the provincial government will meet the national Cabinet soon about the possibility of area-specific lockdowns. As Suné Payne writes, other measures to limit the spread involve increasing law enforcement “visibility” to make sure people comply with rules around masks, physical distancing and alcohol consumption.

The province’s treasury has made more funds available to tackle this resurgence. Finance and Economic Opportunities Minister David Maynier told the provincial parliament on Thursday that R227-million from the budget of the health department and R200-million from the budget of the transport and public works department have been set aside for the surge. The provincial reserves will contribute R864-million if needed. As Suné Payne writes, Maynier also announced a R1.4-billion support package for jobs, safety and “wellbeing”.

Durban trains overcrowded again

Durban’s trains are experiencing levels of overcrowding last seen before the pandemic, and commuters feel they have no choice but to brave the unsafe conditions. As Nokulunga Majola writes, many say the financial blow of the pandemic has forced them to use trains as they are the cheapest way to get to work – even though safety restrictions and marshals are nowhere to be seen. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa blamed these conditions on a shortage of trains in KwaZulu-Natal and not enough marshals to manage the large numbers of people. It committed to employing more security personnel.

Students will receive laptops promised during pandemic in 2021

Seven months ago, the more than 330,000 students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme were promised laptops to help them with online learning during the pandemic. They will have to wait until the new academic year – March 2021 – to receive them, according to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. As Sandisiwe Shoba writes, this comes after a bungled tender process.

Covid-19 budget cuts take away from school sanitation

On 29 November 2020, all schools should have enough classrooms, electricity, water, toilets, fences, telephones and internet, according to norms and standards signed into law in 2013. This is far from the reality, and money redirected from school sanitation to fight Covid-19 will hamper the already slow progress, writes Ayanda Mthethwa.

Progress made in South Africa’s global push to make Covid-19 medicines accessible

Last week, 99 of the 164 World Trade Organisation members agreed to support a formal proposal to waive intellectual property rights on all products related to Covid-19 for the duration of the pandemic. Leading the charge is South Africa, along with India, Kenya and Eswatini. And it’s no easy task. Heading up this effort is Mustaqeem De Gama, a counsellor at South Africa’s permanent mission in Geneva. Kerry Cullinan spoke to the self-described “Pretoria boykie” about the challenges and opportunities of this monumental undertaking.

How to combat misinformation, according to the experts

The Scientists Collective has turned its attention to the “infodemic” and how to stop it. It asks who we should believe and what can be trusted. It clears up common myths and fake news and recommends ways to spot it. Read up here. DM/MC.

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