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SA braces for Covid storm, plus medical breakthroughs

Hi there and welcome to The Wrap simple news updates for busy people, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and explain.co.za 💁🏽‍♀

We’re not going to sugar coat it. Things are getting real in South Africa. Stay safe, and help our healthcare workers who are battling increased caseloads and enormous personal strain.

On the other hand, with more time comes more knowledge and information. We summarise the latest medical breakthroughs that could see us emerge from this pandemic as soon as possible.

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  1. The big story: Ramaphosa to address SA as virus spirals in SA 👀
  2. News briefs: Introducing ‘load reduction’ plus SA cricketers twar over BLM
  3. Solutions: More medical breakthroughs for Covid, and how to deal with anxiety 😵
  4. International round-up: News from Brazil, India, US, Turkey and Serbia

So, let’s dive in:

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🗞 For text, keep scrolling, or read the web version here:

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. COVID-19: The storm is here

Remember the pandemic storm we kept talking about for ages? Well, it’s properly here. Gauteng is now the epicentre of the virus, and is quickly approaching the peak of active infections. Hospital beds are filling up, and medical professionals are already telling stories of having to choose who gets oxygen. The average daily increase in infections surpassed 10 000 this week, and authorities are deeply concerned that South Africans have largely acted like the lockdown is over (c’mon, guys). The President is due to address the nation tonight at 8pm, and he’s widely expected to crack the whip.

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet held meetings last week to discuss possible new restrictions, after the Premiers of our nine provinces raised the alarm about the daily increase in cases, as reported in Sunday Times. It’s becoming increasingly clear that hospitals won’t cope.

The Gauteng Provincial Government’s proposal for an ‘intermittent’ lockdown was refused last week. The province, now the epicentre, accounts for 35.2% of South Africa’s total cases. This is followed by the Western Cape with 29.3% of cases. On July 2, the Gauteng Covid-19 Command Council said there are currently 8 300 beds in the province, but the council says there could be a need for over 50 000 beds by September.

With a crisis looming, the President may reintroduce some restrictions tonight. This could include a curfew, more restrictions on the sale of alcohol, limiting travel between provinces, and limiting passenger capacity in taxis, the Sunday Times is reporting.

But, of course, these are just rumours. Let’s wait on the President, and the gazetted regulations, for the final guidelines.

In the meantime, remember that things are getting more volatile as we approach the peak. Don’t take any unnecessary risks at this time, and do your best to stay safe.

For a refresher: Check out our guide on living responsibly during the current lockdown level.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. NEWS BRIEFS

🔸 Good! Four officers suspended over Khayelitsha eviction

In our regular-ish feature on accountability, we told you how a man was dragged naked out his shack during an eviction in Khayelitsha last week. The City of Cape Town has since suspended four officers who were involved in the evictions, pending an investigation. We hope this will galvanise the city to address the anti-poor policies and policing it has been criticised for, including the illegality of evictions during the lockdown.

🔸 Hello darkness, my old friend’

Remember when load shedding was our biggest problem as a nation, in those days B.C. (before corona – slaps thigh 😆)? Well, thanks to the HEINOUS cold front we’ve had recently, electricity demand soared. This has put strain on Eskom’s units, causing breakdown. Eskom implemented nationwide Stage 2 load shedding this week – not to be confused with Level 3 lockdown!

Eskom says we need to brace ourselves for more in the week ahead. Check your schedule and prepare for the outages, and do your part to keep electricity usage down.

Meanwhile, you may have heard a new term lately: “load reduction”. 🤔

Load reduction made its debut in mid-May this year. Unlike load shedding, which covers most areas, load reduction targets neighbourhoods where illegal connections overload the infrastructure.

This goes some way towards accountability where individuals refuse to adhere to the user-pay principle, and make use of illegal connections. These are incredibly dangerous for both electrocution and fire risk, particularly in high density informal settlements. It puts enormous strain on transformers, which can then explode.

The destroyed transformer cannot be repaired, and must be replaced at a cost of up to R100,000 EACH! Damage from illegal connections has cost Gauteng R1 billion in the past year. Now, Eskom is putting its foot down and switching off power when it sees signs of illegal power use.

On the other hand, in an unequal country like ours, structural problems are partly responsible for people living without formal housing and access to safe electricity connections. With nowhere else for people in illegal settlements to go, the implementation of load reduction in these areas can be seen as a triple punishment to the poorest communities in our country.

🔸 Hostage drama at Gauteng church 😳

In a local story that made international headlines, a ‘hostage’ situation in a church saw 5 people killed and 40 people arrested. The incident included members of the police, SANDF and correctional services.

Details aren’t clear yet, but news reports indicate that a group of men from a splinter church group stormed into the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom, Gauteng on Saturday morning. They allegedly wanted to ‘take over the premises’, due to a feud over the church’s leadership that started in 2016, the BBC reported. Police say dozens of weapons, including shotguns, rifles and pistols, were seized from the premises.

🔸 WHO not ruling out airborne transmission

Isn’t 2020 just the gift that keeps giving? 🙄 New evidence suggests that the coronavirus could be airborne. In its latest transmission guidance, published on Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said some outbreak reports show the potential for transmission by air. These took place in indoor crowded spaces, such as a choir practice, in restaurants or in fitness classes. But the evidence is NOT yet conclusive, and is still being researched.

Wits University professor and member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), Professor Shabir Madhi, told TimesLive this week that scientists underestimated the airborne transmission of Covid-19. He explained that airborne transmission can occur when extremely small microdroplets are suspended in the air for a reasonable time.

When people who are in the vicinity or in a poorly ventilated room inhale the contaminated microdroplets, they get infected. Madhi says this could be why we’re seeing such a rapid increase in cases. He warns that it’s now even more important to keep your mask ON. 😷 (This means over your nose too, guys. There’s really no point otherwise).

🔸 EFF MPs vote against their own policies 😆

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) say they will take their members to task in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) – some of whom voted against an amendment bill barring marriage officials from refusing to marry same-sex couples. The party has apologised to the LGBTI+ community.

🔸Cricketer Lungi Ngidi faces backlash for supporting BLM

South African cricket player Lungi Ngidi faced backlash for taking a stance on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement from some of his fellow cricket players. In this time where the world is taking up this important conversation, Ngidi wanted the national cricket team to take a stand in support of BLM.

But former cricketers Rudi Steyn, Pat Symcox and Boeta Dippenaar instead took an ‘all lives matter’ approach, and confronted Ngidi about his comments on social media. They said Ngidi would be better off discussing the recent upsurge of farm murders. They added that Ngidi should take his own stance if he wants to, but should not involve the rest of the team. So much for solidarity. 🙄

Thankfully, #NotAllWhite cricketers are so woefully out of touch. Vince van der Bijl is 71, and won the Cricketer of the Year award in 1981. He told Sport24 he felt duty-bound to add his voice to Ngidi’s cause.

“As a South African, not to (speak out) would fail to understand South Africa’s influence on this movement due to our history of racial degradation of those of colour.” He said he saluted Ngidi, noting: “All the BLM movement wants is for black lives to be elevated to those of whites.”

Writing on Facebook, he said “I really believe we as cricketers have it in us to help heal these great divides in privilege, race, religion and attitudes. Only then can we be a proper united nation. That is worth dying for.”

Certain former white cricketers could definitely learn from Van Der Bijl!

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. SOLUTIONS

🔹 Treatments, trials and vaccines

Remember the Covid-19 vaccine trial that kicked off two weeks ago in SA? The good news is that things have been going smoothly, and if the trial is successful, South Africa could have the first Covid-19 vaccine as early as the first quarter of 2021. 🙌🏽

Before we get too excited, Professor Shabir Madhi said it’s all dependent on the results of the clinical trials. He told Reuters that from the 19 vaccines being tested, the most positive outcome would be if even two of those succeed.

In other positive medical news, the first Covid-19 antibody rapid blood test kit has been approved for use in SA by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. These blood tests detect traces of Covid-19 antibodies (which fight off viruses in your body). The tests will help establish whether a person has built immunity to a virus, and to determine the effectiveness of a potential vaccine. The tests will become available when the MAC works out its testing strategy.

Plus, a drug combination used for hepatitis C has shown promising results for patients with moderate to severe Covid-19 cases, in one small trial. City Press reported today that South Africa is one of five countries doing randomised clinical trials to confirm the results.

🔹 Dealing with anxiety: an explain.co.za guide

Friday was Panic Awareness Day – a day to remind people who suffer from mental health issues like anxiety, depression and panic attacks that they are not alone. It’s not taboo, and it’s okay to talk about it and ask for help. This is especially important while living through a pandemic. Chances are, you or someone you know will get the virus. And someone you know may pass away during this time. It’s a lot to take in, and we all need to be kind to ourselves.

Here’s how you can recognise the signs of a panic attack, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG):
▪️ quickening heart rate,
▪️ nausea,
▪️ hot or cold flashes,
▪️ numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, and
▪️ shortness of breath

A panic attack usually lasts between 4 – 6 minutes. Here’s how to treat it:
▪️ slow your breathing,
▪️ focus on the present,
▪️ count backwards from 20,
▪️ stretch your body – head to toe, and
▪️ remind yourself that panic attacks always end

We’re addressing this issue in its various forms at explain.co.za. Check out our video on how parents can help manage their child’s school anxiety during a pandemic.

Weekly inspiration 💪

Today we’re inspired by Dr Perisamy Govender – a NINETY-TWO year old GP who is still treating Covid-19 patients. “There will be plenty of time to rest when I am dead,” said Dr Govender in today’s Sunday Times. “Right now, I have God’s work to do.” Before the pandemic, he’d work a full day at his practice in Merebank, Durban and drive himself home at 6pm each evening. 😮💚

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 4.INTERNATIONAL NEWS ROUND UP

Turkey 🇹🇷

First a cathedral, then a mosque, then a museum, back to a mosque. For the first time in 86 years, the iconic Hagia Sophia in Turkey will open its doors for prayer, after a court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum under modern Turkey’s founding father Ataturk was illegal. First built as the world’s then largest church in the year 537, it was used as a political tool by the competing religions of rulers and invaders for hundreds of years.

Its conversion to a museum was seen as a victory for the newly secular state and a symbol of peaceful nation-building, and the decision to convert it back into a mosque has seen mixed reactions from global religious leaders. UNESCO says it will now review Hagia Sophia’s status on the world heritage list.

India 🇮🇳

India now has the third highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. The nation reported a spike of 27,114 cases on Saturday, but compared to other badly affected nations, its death rate has remained low.

Brazil 🇧🇷

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat of Covid-19, flouted social distancing guidelines, and said that his “athletic history” would protect him. This week, he tested positive for the coronavirus, according to The Economist, joining a long list of top government officials to be infected by the virus. We hate to say we told you so, but… eish!

USA 🇺🇸

The Trump administration gave formal notice to the World Health Organisation (WHO) that America will withdraw from the international body on 6 July 2021, also according to The Economist. Joe Biden said he will scrap that decision and “rejoin” the WHO if he is elected US President in November.

Serbia 🇷🇸

Things could be worse in SA! We tend to kvetch about our lockdown restrictions on social media. In Serbia, people are rioting over their new lockdown! Protesters defying a ban on gatherings threw bottles, rocks and flares at police who responded with teargas, according to The Guardian.

That’s it from us at The Wrap, a product of https://www.explain.co.za/ – simple news summaries for busy people. 💁🏾‍♀

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Till next time, goodbye from Verashni, Aarti and the explain.co.za team. ✌🏽