Inside Covid-19: Former Sunday Times editor Brian Pottinger lifts lid on why govts panicked about coronavirus

Have governments gone to far in imposing lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19? Why did governments use this strategy? Is the original Covid-19 still circulating – or did it die out in June? We speak to Brian Pottinger, former Sunday Times editor and South African author of the new book: ‘States of Panic: Covid-19 and the new medieval’ (available on Amazon and Smashwords). His work is based on in-depth research into decisions across the world – from the WHO to the SA and UK governments. And, we hear from our partners at Bloomberg about the new response to Covid-19 by US President Joe Biden, starting with his appointment of Rochelle Walensky to head the country’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. – Jackie Cameron

Inside Covid-19 headlines

  • About 44,000 people have died and about 1.5m people have tested positive for Covid-19 in South Africa, according to government statistics. More than 102m people have been confirmed as having the disease worldwide, and more than 2.2m people have died of the disease. Nearly 450,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States, but the rate of spread seems to be slowing there slightly. In Brazil, the number of cases is still rising. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre data analysis suggests that South Africa is well past the peak of its second wave. Business owners and citizens have slammed the government for maintaining lockdown measures – including a ban on liquor sales – that have hammered the economy.
  • Cuba will make travellers quarantine under a new set of restrictions announced Saturday after coronavirus cases surged this month in the Caribbean’s largest island, says Bloomberg. Tourists, businesspeople and foreign diplomats are among those who will be forced to isolate at their own expense in government-approved hotels upon arriving, according to a statement on the health ministry’s website. It did not specify how long foreigners will be kept in quarantine.
  • Billionaire Carlos Slim returned to his home in Mexico City after being hospitalised for Covid-19, a family member said. Slim is recovering and recuperating well, his son-in-law and spokesman Arturo Elias Ayub reportedly said in a message Saturday. Latin America’s richest man, who turned 81 this week, was hospitalised in Mexico City’s Instituto Nacional de Nutricion, where he was experiencing mild symptoms, Elias Ayub said previously – according to Bloomberg.
  • California breached the 40,000 mark for Covid-19 fatalities, with the addition of 638 deaths yesterday, according to the health department’s website. The state recorded more than 14,000 deaths in January alone. Yesterday saw 18,427 new cases of Covid-19 added to the rolls, below the 14-day rolling average of 23,152. The state’s 14-day positivity rate dropped to 7.8%, down from 12.2% a month ago. California has administered some 42 million tests in total, says Bloomberg.
  • Maryland has found a case of the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa, Governor Larry Hogan said in a statement. He said the case involves a resident living in the Baltimore area with no history of international travel. The first two US cases of the South African variant were found in South Carolina on Jan. 28. Hogan’s statement said the variant is “believed to be more transmissible” but hasn’t been shown to cause more serious illness or risk of death compared with other variants. A new vaccine from Novavax was effective in big trials in both the UK and South Africa, but the effectiveness appeared to be reduced in South Africa where the mutation is prevalent, reports Bloomberg.
  • The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention issued a public health order requiring the wearing of masks by all travellers into, within or out of the US. It will take effect Feb. 2, says Bloomberg. The order applies to airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares, as well as transportation hubs such as airports and seaports; train, bus and subway stations; and any other areas that provide transportation. The CDC announcement follows an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21.
  • Italy registered a decline in new virus cases on Saturday to 12,715 from 13,574 the previous day as the country prepares to ease virus restrictions from Monday for some regions, including the Rome and Milan areas. Daily deaths were also lower, at 421 compared with 477 a day earlier, says Bloomberg.
  • The UK reported 23,275 new cases on Saturday, more than 3,500 fewer than the average of the previous seven days and 30% lower than a week ago. Another 1,200 people died within 28 days of a positive test, in line with the weekly average. More than 8.37 million people have received their first vaccination, says Bloomberg.
  • Pakistan will receive as much as 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the Covax arrangement by the end of second quarter this year, the nation’s planning minister Asad Umar is reported by Bloomberg as saying.
  • A European dispute over supply of Covid-19 vaccines is threatening to unleash a wider political and economic conflict that could stymie global collaboration needed to end the pandemic, says the news service. After accusing UK vaccine maker AstraZeneca of favouring deliveries to its home country, the EU announced a drastic plan to control exports of Covid shots. The retaliatory move may encourage more governments to use economic might – or other means — to protect their interests. The bloc is under pressure to speed up an immunisation campaign that’s trailing those in Britain and the US.
  • Emerging virus variants are forcing drugmakers to develop booster shots for a disease that could remain active for years. Vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer are already in use. Meanwhile, studies show those from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc. pack a punch against early forms of the virus, potentially paving the way for quick authorisations in the US for J&J’s vaccine and in the UK for Novavax’s shot, says Bloomberg. It notes some bad news: Mutations that likely confer partial resistance to vaccines and antibody treatments are now prevalent in both South Africa and Brazil, and threatening to spread worldwide. The J&J shot was found in a late-stage trial to be 72% effective in the US, but that fell to 57% in studies done in South Africa. Novavax’s shot, 89% effective in the UK, was only 49% effective in South Africa.
  • A record 35% of UK companies issued profit warnings last year, according to a report by the consulting firm EY, says Bloomberg. There was also a surge in the number of companies issuing three or more profit warnings in a 12-month period, a warning sign for insolvency. Retail has been one of the hardest-hit sectors, as visits to shops plunge with office workers staying home and the government advising consumers to avoid non-essential trips. Companies with a good online presence and the ability to adapt quickly have performed better, EY said.
  • Manufacturing PMI reports from countries across Asia are set to show the state of recovery in a region that has been boosted recently by spillovers from China’s strength. An official gauge of China’s manufacturing output published Sunday slipped for a second month in January, though remain comfortably in expansion territory. India’s budget will be announced Monday, with a spending binge likely as the government tries to chart a way out of the pandemic-induced slump. The central bank meets Friday.
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