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US could roll out first COVID-19 vaccines by mid-December
23 November 2020, 10:04 PM

The first COVID-19 vaccinations could take place in early to mid-December in the United States. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech applied for emergency use of its vaccine on Friday while Moderna is expected to follow suit with a similar application before the end of the month.

The head of the US vaccine programme known as Operation Warp Speed also indicated over the weekend that vaccines would be shipped to every state within 24 hours of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the application for emergency use.

Between 20 and 40 million doses could be available and distributed before the end of the year in the United States alone.

The United States saw its overall case numbers surge to beyond 12 million over the weekend – adding an astronomical 3 million new cases in just the 22 days of November.

With the positive sentiment around vaccine approval just a first step in a months-long process to arrest this virus in the country. Mocef Slaoui leads the Government’s Operation Warp Speed.

“If approved, they could be used for immunisation in the US population in the month of December. And we plan to have enough vaccine doses available for use in the US to immunise about 20 million individuals in the month of December and another 25 to 30 million per month on an ongoing basis from thereon. And as of the month of February or March, if we have more vaccines approved … We may be able to immunise a larger number of Americans on an ongoing basis per month.”


No silver bullet

That is all good news but public health experts in the US continue to impress on the wider population that the vaccine and its distribution around the country is no silver bullet. That 20 million, maybe up to 40 million doses available by the end of December will have a limited impact in a country of 330 million.

With the Thanksgiving holiday weekend upon us, Americans are being urged to limit travel around the country and to cap their family gatherings as daily case numbers have remained above 150 000 for the past week and expected to rise.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci says, “I’ve used that metaphor that ‘the cavalry is on the way’.  If you’re fighting a battle and the cavalry is on the way, you don’t stop shooting. You keep going until the cavalry gets here, and then you might even want to continue fighting.”

Hospitalisations are above 80 000 –  a new record nationally and 1 500 deaths per day – for 5 of the last 6 days “catastrophic” in a word.

Fauci adds, “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we’re waiting for that help to come, which will be soon.  We’ll be getting vaccine doses into people at high priority at the end of December.  We’re not talking about shutting down the country.  We’re not talking about locking down.  We’re talking about intensifying the simple public health measures that we all talk about: mask-wearing, stay being distanced, avoiding congregate settings, doing things to the extent that we can outdoors versus indoors.  If we do that, we’ll be able to hold things off until the vaccine comes.”

While officials have indicated that they have a national distribution strategy in place that will be ready to go once Emergency Use Authorisation has been received from the FDA, General Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed says, “We’re bringing together all the requirements for administering the vaccine, and then we’re sending it down to the distribution sites.

“Any place that a state wants to administer the vaccine, as long as they’re enrolled – right? – into our process, we can distribute the vaccine.  We can distribute the Pfizer vaccine at a minimum of 975 doses, and the Moderna vaccine at a minimum of 100 doses.  We can go to one place in the state or we can go to 10,000 places in the state.  The capability and the capacity exist because we came together in a whole-of-America approach,” Speed explains.

States, in consultation with the Centres of Disease Control and the FDA, will decide on who gets a vaccine first with frontline health workers and other high-risk groups likely to be at the front of the line – meaning access for the vast majority of Americans will be a few months away at best.


Nigeria to bar airline passengers who flout COVID-19 testing rules
23 November 2020, 8:48 PM

Nigeria will bar passengers who fail to follow the country’s COVID-19 protocol from flying for six months, an official said on Monday.

Passengers returning to Nigeria are currently required to test for COVID-19 both before they board return flights and seven days after they arrive. They are also required to pay for the tests in advance.

Dr Sani Aliyu, coordinator of Nigeria’s COVID-19 task force, said 60% of those who prepaid for tests had failed to show up for them.

“These passengers will not be allowed to travel for a period of six months,” Aliyu said. “We hope that we do not need to do this and people will comply with our protocol.”

Task force chair Boss Mustapha said passengers had spent more than 220 million naira ($580 000) on tests that they did not take. Tests at accredited private labs cost roughly 50 000 naira ($130).

As of Monday, Nigeria had 66 383 confirmed cases of the virus and 1 167 deaths.

Sterling hits 2-1/2-month high on vaccine and Brexit deal optimism
23 November 2020, 7:55 PM

Sterling rallied on Monday, briefly touching a 2-1/2-month high, as more positive news about a potential COVID-19 vaccine propelled investors to buy riskier currencies and investors bet Britain and the European Union would clinch a Brexit trade deal.

London and Brussels this week continue their negotiations to agree a deal on their future trading relationship, though time is now running very short as Britain’s post-Brexit transition period ends in fewer than six weeks.

Without an agreement Britain would revert to trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation rules, an outcome both sides believe would prove highly disruptive for their economies.

Most investors believe a deal will be clinched, even if it is a bare-bones one that leaves some trade discussions for later.

News on Monday that AstraZeneca’s vaccine for the novel coronavirus could be around 90% effective added to the positive mood.

The British currency rose 0.8% to as high as $1.3396, its strongest since early September before the gains faded in late London trading. It last stood at $1.3304.

Against the euro it rose more than half a percent to 88.68 pence, a near two-week high.

“There is scope for a relief rally in GBP on news that a deal has been signed, though the failure of the UK and EU to agree a comprehensive deal will likely limit upside potential,” said Rabobank strategist Jane Foley, noting that a limited, “skeleton” trade deal had been priced in to the pound.

“Since the scenario described above is a consensus view, there is greater scope for volatility in EUR/GBP if a deal is not struck. This is still possible,” she added.

Ulrich Leuchtmann, an FX strategist at Commerzbank, said an extension to the Dec. 31 transition period end-date is now likely as the two sides run out of time to forge a deal.

“The FX market is seeing it as a GBP positive sign that the negotiations are being continued in December,” he said.

The widely watched flash purchasing managers index (PMI surveys for November came in better than expected, with the composite measure touching 47.4 against a forecast of 42.5. However, any reading below 50 still represents a contraction, and the latest lockdown measures are weighing on the economy.

In a busy week for the UK, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak will unveil his spending review on Wednesday. He vowed over the weekend that there would be no return to austerity, even as the coronavirus crisis pushes Britain’s debt further above 2 trillion pounds.

From The Desk of the President
23 November 2020, 3:43 PM

Dear Fellow South African,

It is nearly three decades since the United Nations first initiated the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

It runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

Despite the groundswell of public support for this campaign and many others like it, we are still unfortunately a long way from realising a world free of sexism, discrimination and violence against women and girls.

Despite our best efforts as the international community, as national governments and as civil society, gender-based violence remains a feature of the lives of millions of women and girls around the world.

The reality is that legislative and policy measures instituted by governments cannot alone rid us of this problem.

The 16 Days of Activism campaign affirms the need for all sectors of society to play their part in the fight against gender-based violence.

It is up to us all, as individuals and communities, to bring about the change we so sorely need.

It is about driving fundamental change in societal attitudes that allow sexism, chauvinism and patriarchy to thrive.

As we gear up for this year’s campaign, we acknowledge the invaluable work being done by those outside government to combat gender-based violence.

I speak here of the volunteers at shelters, at police station victim support offices and rape crisis centres, and who staff victim-support hotlines.

We thank the housemothers and managers in our care centres for children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups who have been affected by gender-based violence.

We are grateful for the dedication of our social workers, both in government and in grassroots organisations, who provide critical psycho-social services to survivors and their families.

We acknowledge the counsellors and sponsors who are a lifeline both for survivors and those perpetrators of gender-based violence whose lives have been ravaged by alcoholism and substance abuse.

I commend the professionals who work with perpetrators; running workshops and programmes and supporting efforts towards their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Above all, we salute the neighbour who opens her home to a vulnerable mother and her children; the co-worker who accompanies a survivor of violence to the hospital, police station or a shelter; and the friend who does not stand by and watch a woman or a child being abused but intervenes.

In paying tribute to the health workers, police men and women, prosecutors and judges on the frontline, we should not forget those whose work is not publicised, but is no less important or impactful.

Women form the majority of those engaged in care work and it is in the main unpaid. Acknowledging its important contribution not just to the economy but to society, is key to advancing gender equality.

During the lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic we witnessed first-hand the integral role played by the NGO and community-based sector in providing support to vulnerable women and children.

They worked with government to ensure that the basic needs of women and children in shelters were met, and worked with the Solidarity Fund to ensure there was adequate personal protective equipment in shelters where they were needed.

We know all too well that while it is government that adopts policy, it is our NGOs and community workers who are closest to where our people are. They are a barometer of implementation on the ground.

This country’s women and children, and indeed all the people of South Africa will forever remain grateful for the work of our robust, activist and principled civil society organisations and workers.

Beyond its devastating effects on the health, safety and well-being of women and girls, this insidious problem has significant social, political and economic impacts.

According to a 2017 study, the economic cost of gender-based violence in South Africa is between R28 billion and R42.4 billion a year. This includes the social services, shelter and health care needed to respond effectively to gender-based violence.

Individuals and families bear the greatest proportion of costs – from reduced income to replacement of broken property, to transportation to seek care or attend trial. Furthermore, the productivity of women in abusive relationships is also negatively affected.

There is also the so-called second-generation impact, such as the cost of services for children and others who are affected.

It is clear then that not only is eradicating gender-based violence a moral and human rights imperative, it is also key to us realising our developmental potential as a country.

As we begin the 16 Days of Activism campaign on Wednesday, let us remember that we all share a common goal: to turn the tide on this scourge.

Let us continue in the spirit of mutual respect and partnership to make this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign one that is impactful and that makes a difference.

By the time the campaign concludes on International Human Rights Day, let us be all the closer to achieving a society in which the rights of women and girls are upheld and protected.

With best regards,

UK economy shrinks as new lockdown shuts services firms: PMI
23 November 2020, 2:15 PM

British business activity has contracted in November as a new wave of coronavirus restrictions hammered the huge services industry, but news of possible vaccines has sharply boosted hopes for 2021, a survey showed on Monday.

An early “flash” reading of the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a gauge of private sector growth, tumbled to a five-month low of 47.4 in November from 52.1 in October.

It is the first time the index has gone below the 50.0 growth threshold level since June.

The decline was smaller than a slump to 42.5 forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, however, and less severe than the drop in the euro zone.

The forward-looking component of the PMI hit its highest in more than five years, boosted by progress on COVID-19 vaccines.

Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane said on Monday he hoped the economy would be “turning a leaf” next year, but warned that some long-term damage was inevitable.

Britain’s economy is widely expected to contract in the fourth quarter – albeit by less than it did around the time of the first coronavirus lockdown – after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a four-week lockdown for England.

Other parts of the United Kingdom have also imposed restrictions on businesses, including in hospitality and other face-to-face activities.

Those closures helped to push the services PMI to 45.8 from 51.4 in October.

But manufacturing, which was largely unaffected by the latest lockdown, accelerated, with its PMI rising to 55.2, the joint-highest level since 2018.

“The two-speed nature of the recovery is increasingly clear,” J.P. Morgan Asset Management strategist Hugh Gimber said. “The manufacturing sector continues to tick along at a healthy pace, while new lockdowns have slammed the brakes on the nascent recovery in the service sector.”

The approach of a possible trade shock at the end of next month, when Britain’s post-Brexit transition deal with the European Union will expire, prompted clients of British factories to increase their orders to build up stocks.

That in turn lead to a sharp lengthening of supplier delivery times because of severe delays at British ports.

Job losses across the private sector accelerated, although some of the reduction in employment was due to companies taking advantage of the government’s extended jobs protection scheme.

Separate figures on Monday showed the number of people visiting shops in Britain last week was 55% lower than a year earlier.



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