Inside Covid-19: Discovery Vitality travel perks; Vitamin B, Zinc could hold answer to keeping worst symptoms at bay

In this episode of Inside Covid-19, we have exciting news from our sponsors at Discovery, with the Discovery Vitality programme announcing measures that will provide a much-needed boost to the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors – and will also lift the spirits of people who have been looking forward to exploring the world, enjoying nature and generally getting out to have fun. Also coming up: Cape Town based aerospace entrepreneur Robert Miller has been working with two South African medical experts on an interesting hypothesis about why South Africa’s deaths from Covid-19 haven’t been as bad as initially feared. The work has been published in a British medical journal and international scientists have been testing their ideas on mice. In a nutshell, the three believe that Vitamin B and Zinc – and low-cost fortified bread – could hold the clue to staving off Covid-19 symptoms – including long Covid. – Jarryd Neves & Jackie Cameron

Inside Covid-19 headlines

  • The world is heading towards 50m people testing positive for Covid-19, with the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre showing just under 49m cases as of Friday the 6th of November. Hardest hit is the United states with just under 10m cases. South Africa is number 13 on the list of countries with the highest reported incidence of Covid-19, with just under 750,000 cases reported to the govt. About 235,000 people have died in the US of Covid-19, just under 162,000 in Brazil and 125,000 in India. As of the start of the weekend, 19,677 people were listed as having died of the coronavirus in South Africa.
  • (Bloomberg) –Russia for the first time reported more than 20,000 Covid-19 cases in the last day as a surge in some regions is overwhelming local hospitals’ ability to care for patients.There were 20,582 new Coronavirus infections in the last day, with two-thirds of them outside of Moscow, the government’s virus response center said Friday. Russia has reported 1,733,440 total cases, the fourth-most globally.
  • (Bloomberg) The U.S. became the first country to top 100,000 cases in one day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana were among states reporting record Covid-19 infections on Thursday.
  • A Height Capital Markets analyst estimated that U.S. hospitals could reach capacity and trigger lockdowns before the Thanksgiving holiday if infections continue at the current pace. In Europe, France warned of a “violent” second wave and Greece imposed a three-week lockdown.
  • In Asia, Japan recorded over 1,000 coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest level the country has seen since August. South Korea reported 145 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, the biggest gain in two weeks. China will temporarily halt entry by non-Chinese nationals who are in Russia and India, after doing so for those in the U.K. and Belgium.
  • Japan Airlines Co. will raise up to 168 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in an overseas and domestic share sale, using the proceeds to reduce debt and bolster its financial base. The carrier last month forecast what would be its first fiscal-year net loss since emerging from bankruptcy in 2012, with most travel still suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Germany recorded 22,561 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours through Friday morning, down from the previous day’s record of 31,480, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The figures have fluctuated significantly in recent weeks, with daily infections falling to the lowest in almost two weeks on Wednesday. The average over the past seven days has risen to 17,827 from 14,644 over the previous period. A partial lockdown took effect Monday designed to reduce social contact while keeping Europe’s biggest economy running. The restrictions include closing bars and restaurants while keeping schools and daycare centres open.
  • A small study found that a nasal spray protected ferrets from absorbing the coronavirus, the New York Times reported. The study was released Thursday by an international team of scientists and hasn’t been peer-reviewed. The spray, which has only been tested on animals, contains a lipopeptide that attacks the virus directly, preventing it from attaching to lung cells.
    The work has been under way by scientists from Columbia University Medical Center in New York, Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, Cornell University and the University of Campania in Italy, the Times reported. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Columbia University Medical Center, it said.
  • India added 47,638 cases on Friday, easing slightly after infections a day earlier topped 50,000 for the first time since Oct. 24. The country has seen daily infections drop from a peak of more than 97,000 in mid-September. But concerns have increased over a possible jump in cases as India kicks off its festival season — culminating in Diwali on Nov. 14. Total cases in India are at 8.41 million, the second-highest globally behind the U.S., while the country’s death toll rose to 124,985.
  • Malaysia’s new cases have topped 1,000 for three straight days this week. The country has been struggling to contain a resurgence of coronavirus infections that emerged in late September after local elections in the eastern state of Sabah. The government has tightened curbs on movement across several states including in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, ordered about 1 million people to work from home, and banned all social and cultural activities to control the spread.
  • Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture plans to raise its coronavirus alert as soon as Saturday after cases surged to record and will ask restaurants in the nightlife district of Susukino in Sapporo to close at 10 p.m., broadcaster NTV reports, without attribution.
  • The U.K. has removed Denmark from its travel corridor list, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said in a tweet. Health authorities have reported widespread outbreaks of Covid-19 in mink farms with variant strain spreading to some local communities.Australia’s Victoria state, which ended a three-month lockdown in its capital Melbourne last week, has recorded a seventh-straight day with no new coronavirus cases. The stringent restrictions, which shuttered hospitality and retail and included a nighttime curfew, have seen new Covid-19 infections drop from a daily peak of around 700 in early August.
  • Japan recorded over 1,000 coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest level the country has seen since August.
    While the numbers pale in comparison to those seen in Europe and the U.S., they’re worrying authorities in a country that has so far weathered the pandemic. Hokkaido, the northernmost region, has been at the center of the increase, with a record 119 cases on Thursday. The prefecture is reported to be considering lifting its alert level and asking people to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors.
  • South Korea reported 145 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours compared with 125 a day earlier, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. That was the biggest increase in newly confirmed cases in two weeks.
  • China will temporarily suspend entry by non-Chinese nationals who are in Russia and India and hold valid visas or residence permits, two Chinese embassies said in statements dated Nov. 5.
  • U.S. coronavirus cases increased by more than 100,000 — the highest daily number ever recorded by any nation — as Americans await the outcome of a presidential election that has exposed strongly opposing views on how aggressively to manage the pandemic. Illinois, Ohio and Michigan were among states reporting record Covid-19 infections on Thursday, with Ohio’s governor calling the state’s numbers “shockingly high.” New York cases are running at the highest level in six months. A recent surge in the Midwest has spread more widely, with states from New York to Utah reporting increasing cases. The nation has the most cases, at 9,586,656, and fatalities, 234,777, in the world.
  • Indiana reported 4,462 new cases, the second consecutive day the state has set a record for new infections. The 7-day average has roughly tripled in the last month to 3,236 on Wednesday. The state reported another 45 deaths, among the most in one day, for a total of 4,269.
  • France posted a record number of new virus cases, 58,046, as the health minister warned of a “violent” second wave sweeping the country. France is also facing a surge in intensive care patients, Health Minister Olivier Veran said. Virus patients now account for more than 85% of French hospitals’ initial intensive-care capacity. Another 363 people died from the virus, bringing the total to 39,037.

 

BizNews founder Alec Hogg talks to Dinesh Govender, chief executive of Discovery Vitality, about an exciting announcement that is sure to give the travel and tourism sector a much-needed kick.

Dinesh Govender is the chief executive of Vitality. He’s here with some good news. As a Discovery member, I’ve been dying to get back onto an airplane to use my miles. At last, it seems as though Comair is coming out of its troubles and will be able to fly again?

Thanks, Alec. It’s great to be on the show. I think it’s a very positive step forward for the country. On the one hand – from a business perspective – Comair coming out of business rescue, reopening flights, starting December 1st is great. For Vitality members, it’s even more exciting because they’ve got early access to book all their flights before the general public on Kulula.com 

It just shows, I guess, that good things do happen sometimes, despite what we’ve been going through in the last few months. How long have you been negotiating this with Comair, to give Discovery members an inside track?

There wasn’t really a negotiation. We’ve been partners for decades now. So as part of just reopening, I thought this is a great way to actually recognise the amount of efforts Vitality members put into earning their discounts on their flights. So what better way to reward them right now than with the scarcity value of being able to guarantee that they can take their families on holiday this December on the flights they want and at the times they want.

So really, it is about giving Vitality members everything they need in terms of their massive discounts. Whether it’s 35% percent for Vitality or whether it’s 75% percent because they’ve also got Discovery Bank, that goes without saying. On top of that, being able to secure the flight you want with our very good partners, Comair. Thirdly, also to get through the airports quicker. We’ve got these priority lines for Discovery Bank clients, where they can walk through security and bypass the snaking maize queue. 

That’s quite a lot of advantages for Discovery Bank clients. Obviously, that has to be quite new given that the bank hasn’t been around that long?

Correct. So what we’ve done – in addition to the discounts we give to Vitality members – as a Discovery bank member, you do get additional discounts based on the account you have, based on the Vitality money status. As you manage your money better, we reward you because we know you’re lower risk and a much more attractive client. Also, how do we give them special treatment in the airports? 

This idea came up before lockdown, but we’ve actually been building it together with ACSA during lockdown, which was creating fast track access for Discovery Bank clients. Based on your card colour, you also have access to certain airport lounges. But the priority track is exclusively for Discovery Bank black card holders and purple card holders.

And then those extra discounts, how do they work? 

So based on your Vitality health status – so whether you’re blue, bronze, silver, gold or diamond status – you’re able to get up to 35% discount immediately – up front – on your booking. So if you go onto Kulula.dotcom today, as a Discovery member, and try to book a flight, you’ll see that your flight gets discounted by 35% if you’re a diamond Vitality member. 

If you’ve got a Discovery Bank account with us. So, for example, if you got a Discovery Bank black suite account with Discovery Bank and you manage your money well – you move up your status all the way to gold or diamond status – and if you’re spending at the requisite amount. So based on your spend, based on your Vitality money status – which is a good indication of how well you manage your finances – and based on your credit card, you will get a boost of up to 40%, in addition to the 35% discount. So the 75% off your discount. I’ll give you an example. I’ve just made a booking for December for my family so we could travel safely over this period. 

The rest of my family is traveling at a 35% discount, because as a family we’re on diamond Vitality health status. I’ve also got a full suite Discovery Bank account, and because of that I have only paid 25% for my ticket on the flight. 

Wow. So it really is starting to kick in now, that shared value right across all the platforms – in particular for the bank. But just from Comair’s perspective, when are they starting to fly again?

The business rescue consortium received approval from The Competition Commission last week. So there have been lots of different hurdles that they need to go through, as part of the business rescue process. One of the big ones was getting approval for the deal, which happened last week from The Competition Commission.

In addition to that, they’ve been working through all of the other elements. As we’ve seen, business rescue can be quite tricky. In many situations, it doesn’t end as positively as this one has. We’re very excited by the story. We think it’s great, not just for Comair – who are great partners – but we think it’s great for our members, and for South Africa in terms of businesses rising again through this pandemic, which is positive. 

The way it works for Comair now is, they’ve started bookings for Vitality members. They’ll open bookings to the general public next week and the call centre reopens. They’ll resume flights from December 1st. Those will be on all their routes. I think early next year, they’ll reopen Lanseria airport flight bookings. But from the 1st of December, all their typical routes will be flown on Kulula.com. We expect them to reopen bookings for British Airways local flights as soon as well.

What about the other partners, Emirates and Qantas?

So you can already book Emirates and Qantas flights. So we’ve actually been open on the platform for members to book local accommodation, car hire and Emirates and Qantas flights over the past few weeks already. That was already in place. 

Emirates is flying right now. So you can make those flight bookings. In fact, we normally have a six-week rule on international flight bookings, which says, ‘this needs to be for holidays. You need to be planning ahead, book in six weeks.’ We’ve actually taken away that rule right now because people haven’t had six weeks to plan for any flights they want to take in late November, early December. 

So, we are relaxing the rule for our members right now so they can book those Emirates flights. You’re able to book a Qantas flight, but they’ve only opened up schedules from April 1st next year. So Qantas isn’t flying at the moment. British Airways is flying and again, we expect those bookings to reopen in the next one to two weeks and we’ll let members know about that when it happens. 

What about refunds for those Vitality members who had booked flights before the Covid-19 lockdown? 

It’s been a tough time for the industry and for members of the general public, in terms of flight bookings, credits and refunds, I think the developments there have been very positive. In terms of refunds on international flights, those are progressing. Now that the business rescue process has evolved to space where the airline is reopening, we’re seeing the refunds on Emirates, Qantas and British Airways international tickets coming through.

So members are getting those, but we still urge patience. It still takes six to eight weeks typically. Those refunds are coming through at an increasing pace. On local flights – the Kulula and British Airways local flights – Comair has taken a stance around credits. 

So the good news is, members who had unused tickets that they booked between March and November this year – those flights were obviously cancelled – members get their full rand value as a credit towards flights in 2021.Comair is currently working through the process to actually get those into what they call a travel bank on the Kulula.com platform. That will happen in January next year. Once it’s ready – and they’re estimating it’s around the second or third week of January when the travel bank credit will be available to members with unused tickets – members will be able to use it the way they use Discovery Miles, the way they use credit cards right now to book a flight. 

They’ll be able to pay in full, pay in part, pay and still have a credit owing to them, all the way up to any flights in November 2021. So those credits are coming through now.

Dinesh, just to close off with. Obviously, flights are a big part of the rewards for Discovery Vitality members. How have you viewed all of this going into business rescue? Has Discovery helped Comair in any way to get back on its feet, because of the benefits members derive?

I’d like to say we’ve been supportive partners to all of our partners, not just Comair, but across all of them. In terms of if there were any requirements to market to members, to keep members and the general public sort of informed while they were going through tough times, I think we’ve helped.

One of the things, if you’re in the business sector you would have seen, is that as part of the business resuming operations, there’s a lot of working capital involved. So one of the things we’ve done with Comair, is we have prepaid for a lot of the benefits that our members will receive going into 2021. That’s just part of the working capital support.

But I think a lot of the support is just actually staying the course, keeping members engaged and on the Vitality programme, by doubling other benefits that were relevant – like healthy food and healthcare – keeping members engaged with in other ways over this period, until the airline was back in the sky. 

 

Read the hypothesis paper written by Robert Miller, Guy Richards and A.R Wentzel here

What Miller, Richards and Wentzel recommend people take prophylactically (per day):

Ascorbic Acid     500mg

Quercetin            250mg

Nicotinic Acid     35mg

Zinc                        5mg

Vitamin D3          1000iu

Selenium             18mcg

Other papers that have followed or are linked to the paper by Miller, Richards and Wentzel:

The Molecular Story of Covid-19; NAD+ Depletion Addresses All Questions in this Infection

Influence of NAD+ as an ageing-related immunomodulator on Covid-19 infection: A hypothesis

Preclinical research shows that Covid-19 infection may dysregulate NAD+ synthesis

Looking around the world and around the corner in Covid-19 research

Have we learnt anything from Covid-19, and can we put it into good use in the future?

Rapid evolution of our understanding of the pathogenesis of Covid-19: Implications for therapy

Host NAD+ metabolism and infections: therapeutic implications

National fortification of staple foods can make a significant contribution to micronutrient intake of South African adults

Also read:

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