Inside Covid-19: What SA will look like in 2021; Govt vaccine plan; masks – why they work

This week, President Cyril Ramaphosa gathered a family meeting to share the details of tighter restrictions aimed at halting the rising rate of Covid-19 cases in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. This includes the possibility of stiff fines and even time in jail for employers who do not insist that employees wear masks at all times. In this episode of Inside Covid-19, we pick up on some of the details of changes as South Africans sign off work for their festive season breaks. We speak to Dr Ronald Whelan, Chief Commercial Officer of Discovery Health and head of Discovery’s Covid-19 response team, for an assessment of how SA has been managing the pandemic. Dr Whelan also provides an update on the importance of masks – as well as the roll-out of the vaccine in SA, particularly in the light of news that the Covid-19 virus has been mutating. He provides a fascinating glimpse of what Discovery’s data is telling us about the spread and severity of Covid-19. Dr Whelan warns us to expect at least another six months, and probably more, of navigating this disease. Also coming up: our partners at Bloomberg explore vaccine roll-out in the hemisphere. – Jackie Cameron & Jarryd Neves

The Covid-19 headlines

  • As of this week, just under 73m cases of Covid-19 and more than 1,6m deaths have been reported worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.
  • The US has the highest number of deaths – more than 300,000 – and more than 16,5m cases. India has the next highest number of Covid-19 cases reported to the authorities, at just under 10m.
  • South Africa is number 18 on the list of countries hardest hit by Covid-19, with just under 900,000 cases, and number 14 in the ranking of countries with the highest number of deaths – at just under 24,000.
  • South Africa has tightened up restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 and employers have been urged to make a concerted effort to ensure compliance with rules aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 or run the risk of fines and possibly even jail terms of up to six months. This was said by President Cyril Ramaphosa who has highlighted that the second wave will be worse than the first if strict regulations aren’t applied. In an effort to balance conserving jobs with lives, a nationwide lockdown has not been imposed, he said. Instead, holiday-makers in the Eastern Cape and Garden Route have had their plans curtailed, though beaches around the country will be no-go areas on public holidays. Stricter restrictions on the consumption of alcohol apply, too, though limited wine tasting and wine sales in the Western Cape will be allowed. For more details, listen to the full announcement here on BizNews Radio.
  • Covid has caused a shortage of psychiatric drugs in South Africa. South Africa has been hit by a shortage of mental health medication and contraceptives after the coronavirus outbreak disrupted manufacturing and imports, says Bloomberg. The number of so-called stock-outs, when a medicine is unavailable, has doubled this year to over 1,400 reports, according to Ruth Dube, project coordinator at the Stop Stockouts Project, a non-profit that campaigns to end medicine scarcity.
  • UK prime minister Boris Johnson faces a mounting clamour to cancel an easing of lockdown restrictions over Christmas – also known as bubbles – amid warnings they will ‘cost lives’ – with ministers admitting the plans are ‘under review’, says the Daily Mail. Leading medical journals the BMJ and HSJ are spearheading a campaign to axe the ‘rash’ festive easing – even though it is due to start in just nine days and many families will already have made travel arrangements. Tory MPs are also increasingly nervous about the UK-wide proposals with cases surging and fears over a new potentially more infectious coronavirus strain, while the Welsh government has indicated it could think again . London mayor Sadiq Khan has added his voice to the demands, but predicted that the PM will not shift because he won’t want to be seen as ‘cancelling Christmas’, adds the British newspaper.
  • The British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ban households from mixing over Christmas to protect the National Health Service. In a rare joint editorial, the journals said the plan to relax social-distancing rules for five days will boost infections. “The government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives,” the editorial said. “If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be ‘protecting the NHS.’”
  • Millions of Londoners will be ordered to comply with England’s toughest rules from Wednesday, as U.K. authorities warned a “new variant” of the disease may be driving a rapid rise in cases. The switch to tier 3 rules from tier 2 in London and parts of southeast England will see pubs, bars and restaurants closed, except for serving takeaway meals. Theaters and museums will also shut to the public.
  • Bloomberg reports that European regulators will review Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine next week, earlier than initially planned, amid growing pressure across the continent to approve the shot quickly. A European Medicines Agency committee will meet Dec. 21 to consider the vaccine after receiving additional data from the developers, according to a statement Tuesday from the drugs watchdog. Leaders in Germany, Italy and Poland, among other countries, have been pushing the European regulator to speed up its review as vaccination campaigns begin for high-risk people in the UK and US.
  • Moderna’s vaccine is safe and effective for people ages 18 and older, U.S. regulators said, clearing the way for a second shot to quickly gain emergency authorisation and add to the country’s sprawling immunisation effort, says Bloomberg. The Food and Drug Administration said that the experimental vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, confirming earlier results released by the company. The report was posted online ahead of a meeting Thursday of agency advisers who will vote whether to recommend authorisation before a final FDA decision.
  • Sweden’s capital is considering postponing all non-essential health-care services to free up resources needed to tackle a relentless rise in cases, says Bloomberg. The proposal, which would be effective until the end of January, is due to be discussed later on Tuesday, Bjorn Eriksson, director of health and medical services for the Stockholm region, told reporters. Almost all of Sweden’s regional hospitals are now struggling with a shortage of health-care staff, Swedish Radio reported.
  • Denmark may expand local lockdowns to the entire country to counter a rise in cases, local media including TV2 reported. The restrictions currently cover two-thirds of Denmark. The government is expected to present the new measures at a press conference later on Tuesday, according to the broadcaster.
  • Pressure is building in Europe for quick approval of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine. Germany is “optimistic” that the European Medicines Agency will be able to make a decision by Dec. 23, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in Berlin on Tuesday. The EMA had previously said an advisory board would convene by Dec. 29 to make a recommendation on the application; approval would come within days after that. “We’re doing all we can to get this vaccine approved as soon as possible,” Spahn said. “The goal is to get approval before Christmas,” he said, adding that Germany hopes to start its rollout before the end of the year.
  • Will people keep washing their hands regularly after the pandemic has ended? A US study reported by The Wall Street Journal suggests not.  There has been a 14% drop in hand washing, the American Cleaning Institute found. We have lost everything we gained in the beginning. Once the pandemic ends, I expect the focus on cleaning, disinfection and hand washing will do the same. While some people may continue to stay vigilant, the majority most likely will simply forget what it was like. To wit, I have talked with people about how they remember the 2009 swine flu pandemic. In short, they don’t.microbiologist Jason Tetro, author of “The Germ Code” and “The Germ Files.” For more on that, log on to BizNews Premium – which offers full access to The Wall Street Journal as one of the benefits.
  • Based on SA Medical Research Council reports and Discovery’s extrapolations, it is estimated that approximately 30% of South Africans have already been infected with Covid-19. Under this assumption, Discovery Health’s outbreak modeling suggests that maintaining an R lower than 1.4 is critical in avoiding the spread of the second wave. If infections in a particular area go beyond this level, the virus starts spreading at uncontrollable rates (for more, see Managing the second Wave – a plea for a collective response from all South Africans).



Also see:

Jail time for up to 6 months, stiff fines for employers who flout Covid-19 mask rules; update on restrictions – CR

Covid-19: eSwatini Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini loses battle

Inside Covid-19: Pay-as-you go private medical care; Why SA is at back of Covid-19 vaccine queue – and what’s next

Inside Investing: How Covid-19 accelerates growth for digital disruptors – 4Sight Holdings

Covid-19 funds: AG uncovers spending on dead people, bogus employees, spoilt medicine


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