Inside Covid-19: Insurance extras to help restaurant owners survive tough times; what the world can learn from Israel

A year ago, the coronavirus pandemic struck, turning people’s lives upside down and transforming the way we work and do business. In this episode of Inside Covid-19, Discovery Insurance Chief Operating Officer Lana Ross shares the details of innovations in cover for restaurants – which have been hit particularly hard by lockdown measures. And, we hear insights on how Israel has had one of the world’s most successful vaccination efforts yet. Public health experts say that an Israeli study shows that immunisations could end the pandemic. Naomi Kresge of Bloomberg looks at why the Israeli study is so significant and why it may point to an eventual way out of the pandemic. – Jackie Cameron & Jarryd Neves

  • 145 544 vaccinations have been administered to health workers in SA as the official death toll from Covid-19 creeps towards 52,000. More than 1,5m South Africans have tested positive for Covid-19
  • Not far off 2.7m people worldwide are reported as having died of the coronavirus. The US has been the hardest hit, with about 540,000 deaths. Brazil, Mexico and India are next on the list, before the UK which has registered 126,000 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been hailed as a game changer, reports The Conversation. It requires only a single dose rather than two doses spaced weeks apart, and it does not need freezer storage, making it a natural fit for hard-to-reach rural areas and underserved communities with limited access to health care and storage facilities. But while many people are excited about the prospects of only one shot, the new vaccine is also getting backlash in the United States. Part of that is coming from lack of clarity about the vaccines’ efficacy numbers, and part of it is more nuanced. On March 2, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops urged Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it uses lab-grown cells that are clones of fetal tissue from abortions in the 1980s. If states don’t plan carefully for how the vaccines are distributed, the result could be a nightmare of frustrated patients and wasted vaccine, warns the group of scientists who compiled the report. The lead author is Tinglong Dai, Associate Professor of Operations Management & Business Analytics, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
  • AstraZeneca Plc’s European vaccine nightmare is worsening, with a number of countries halting shots over safety fears as further delivery delays prompt governments around the world to hoard doses they’ve already got, reports Bloomberg. Ireland on Sunday joined a growing list of about a dozen countries moving to suspend the shot over concerns about possible side effects from two batches of the vaccines. While Europe’s medicines regulator said there was no indication of any issues, reports of serious blood clotting after inoculation triggered a spate of suspensions stretching as far as Thailand. The health scare emerged against a backdrop of further supply woes. The drugmaker’s efforts to make up for the European Union shortfall by sourcing shots elsewhere have hit a wall as governments around the world protect their own supplies. The US rebuffed pressure to share doses and is holding on to its Astra stockpile, even though the shot isn’t yet authorised for use there.
  • The government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi has approved strict new curbs for most of Italy, with the country’s most populous regions facing a lockdown as the coronavirus pandemic worsens, says Bloomberg. Draghi’s cabinet approved a decree automatically designating regions as high-risk “red zones” if they have more than 250 weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a statement from his office. The rules will go into effect Monday and combined with measures already triggered by the spread of the virus, they could effectively send a number of regions, including those surrounding Milan and Rome, into lockdown. That would affect as many as two-thirds of Italians. The measures bring Italy almost full-circle just over a year after it became the first Western country to go into a lockdown. Infections have reached a three-month high since the more contagious UK strain appeared in the country amid a sluggish vaccine roll-out. Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, is seeking to speed up the vaccination campaign to both counter the pandemic and restart an economy that shrank 8.9% last year. The country registered 25,673 new cases Thursday, compared to 22,409 the previous day.
  • Kenya extended a night curfew by 60 days and banned political rallies for a month after the Covid-19 positivity rate surged to 13% in March from 2% in January, President Uhuru Kenyatta said. That’s according to Bloomberg, which points out that the East African nation’s economy suffered a 560 billion-shilling ($5.11bn) hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Kenyatta said Friday while announcing the additional measures to curb a third wave of infections. Gross domestic product expanded by an estimated 0.6% in 2020, instead of an initial projection of 6.2%, after the government introduced a lockdown in major cities, he said. “Projections indicate that, in spite of the Covid plunge, our economy is likely to bounce back and grow 7% in 2021,” Kenyatta said. “If we had not made the bold decisions of 2020, as is projected, our economy would in 2021 contract by 15%.” Kenya plans to spend 34 billion shillings on Covid-19 vaccines over three years, according to National Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani. Some 20 billion shillings is already secured, while the government is in talks with the World Bank for 5 billion shillings and is exploring ways to raise the remaining 9 billion shillings, he said. By Thursday, Kenya had 111,185 Covid-19 cases and 1,899 fatalities, according to the Ministry of Health.
  • Hong Kong has sent a class of 8 year olds at an expensive private school to government-run quarantine facilities for a period that can last up to 14 days, after their teacher at a British international school contracted the coronavirus. Parents whose children attend the Kellett School, one of the pricey international schools that has been linked to a new cluster centred on the business and expatriate community, received emails from administrators about the forced quarantine orders on Friday. A class at Kellett numbers around 20 students. The school tried to protest the move, arguing that “these children were socially distanced at all times and both the teacher and students were wearing masks,” according to an email from Principal Mark Steed seen by Bloomberg News. The children can be accompanied by a parent or caregiver in quarantine, Steed wrote. Hong Kong, which has one of the strictest quarantine regimes in the world, requires all who have had close contact with infected persons to enter mandatory isolation for a period up to two weeks. Over 200 people have been sent to quarantine in the latest flareup, which started with a trainer at a gym popular with western expats.
  • The news has rattled the community of expat parents in the Asian financial hub, some of whom pay upwards of HK$250,000 ($32,000) a year for schooling. The spartan quarantine facilities don’t have WiFi and meals are delivered through slots in the doors. Studies have found that school children did not spread infection in Hong Kong and that pandemic restrictions extract a major social and mental toll on the young. Still, the city has taken a strict line towards education institutions. Schools were shuttered three times in 2020 and only recently returned to in-person learning, although Hong Kong’s overall outbreak is far smaller than in western countries. The strict mandatory quarantine rules in Hong Kong mirror those adopted in places like New Zealand and mainland China, where the coronavirus has been all but stamped out through tough measures isolating all infected people, even if they have no symptoms. The failure to effectively manage contagious people with mild or no symptoms is a driving factor behind some of the world’s worst resurgences.
  • Norwegian health authorities plan to conduct an investigation after a reported death following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Norwegian Medicines Agency said it hasn’t been concluded that there is any link between the vaccine and the death, and there’s no suspicion that the person died from a blood clot.
  • Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine was 96.4% effective against mild, moderate and severe symptoms of the disease in the final analysis of a late-stage trial in the UK. The shares climbed as much as 23% in US premarket trading.
  • Germany is at the start of a third wave of Covid-19 infections, said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute. Cases are rising rapidly among youths younger than 15 years, Wieler said at a press conference, adding that the country is seeing more outbreaks in nurseries than in late 2020. The number of patients requiring hospitalization is also increasing, and some states are seeing an increase in the number of patients in intensive care units. There are signs the B.1.1.7 strain is behind the increase in nursery outbreaks, Wieler said.
  • US President Joe Biden said the US was doubling the number of pharmacies and federal mass vaccination sites offering shots, and that he would deploy about 4,000 additional active-duty troops to assist in the effort. Bloomberg reports that the government will create a website and open a 1-800 number to help Americans find available shots, and offer technical support to states developing their own such services. Biden said the US must beat the virus to get the economy back on track and that children may have been set back a year or more by the pandemic. He said people will be able to get the vaccines in pharmacies “just like you get your flu shot,” but warned that things may get worse again as new variants spread. He urged Americans to get a vaccine when they can — a nod to the unknown number who are hesitant or don’t plan do. “I need you to get vaccinated when it’s your turn and when you can find an opportunity,” he said. He offered an incentive, saying it’ll be safe to have small July 4th holiday gatherings if things don’t regress. He pleaded with Americans to not let up and to stick with mitigation measures, like masks.

* This podcast is brought to you by Discovery.

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