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French COVID-19 cases spike again, ICU figure at three-month high
16 September 2020, 9:14 PM

The number of French people treated in intensive care units for COVID-19 rose for the 20th straight day on Wednesday to a three-month high of 803, while the number of new daily cases was the third-highest on record.

French health authorities reported 9 784 new infections, just below the 10 561 daily all-time high reached on Saturday, bringing the cumulative number of cases to 404 888, the second-highest tally in Western Europe behind Spain.

Speaking to journalists shortly after the arrival of the Tour de France’s seventeenth stage in the Alps, French President Emmanuel Macron said the virus was circulating “quicker and quicker in certain parts of the country.”

“The virus is here to stay for months, it will circulate everywhere in Europe and especially in France,” he said, adding that health rules must be obeyed to protect lives. The number of people in ICUs is still almost nine times lower than the April 8 peak of 7 148, but the upward trend is putting a renewed strain on the hospital system in certain parts, such as Marseille.

The total figure for COVID-19 hospitalisations increased by 140, at 5 819, rising by more than a hundred for the third day in a row, a sequence unseen since April 14, when that number reached its record of 32 292. The number of people in France who have died from COVID-19 infections rose by 46 to 31 045.

That figure is higher than the seven-day moving average of 36, which itself is at its highest since the beginning of the month.

Gupta associate offered me R800 mil to reinstate Koko as acting Eskom CEO: Daniels
15 September 2020, 7:37 PM

Eskom’s former company Secretary and Legal Head Suzanne Daniels has also told the State Capture Commission that she was offered R800 million by Gupta associate, Salim Essa, to reinstate Matshela Koko as the power utility’s acting CEO.

She said she declined the offer.

Daniels has also described a meeting attended by President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma, former Minister of Energy Ben Martins and Ajay Gupta. She says at the meeting Ajay wanted to know how former Eskom CEO Ben Molefe’s pension legal woes would be sorted out.

He also indicated to her they would find someone in the Deputy Judge President’s office to move the case out and that the matter would be easier to deal with once Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma comes into power.

Daniels says it was then that she realised that the Guptas thought that they were running the country.

“All sorts of thoughts went through my head. Was this a trap? I’ve already turned them down because here I am in a place nobody knows, because I had told my family I’m going to Melrose Arch. And if you read my testimony, you will see I’ve said Ajay Gupta was seated there with an old T- Shirt, a tracksuit and barefoot, and that made me even more angry and I’m thinking this man is sitting here and he thinks he owns the country,” says Daniels.

Daniels says she did not trust the power utility’s 2014 board and that tensions between her and the board escalated. She told the State Capture Commission that she was compelled by law to submit documents to the Public Protector without informing the board.

Daniels says a meeting was later called by board members with former Minister Lynne Brown to discuss the Public Protector and the freezing of some of the board members’ bank accounts.

Daniels testified that it was at this meeting that she got confirmation that the board was run by the Guptas.

“Board members were complaining that their bank accounts were being investigated and they were being declared politically exposed persons. I’m not quite sure how that meeting ended, but subsequent to that meeting, one of the board directors called me and said she was extremely angry because her account … was threatening to freeze her account and she said to me if these people think that I’m going down alone they have another thing coming. Everybody knows that this board is a Gupta board,” says Daniels.

Suzanne Daniels gives testimony at the State Capture Commission:

2 585 new COVID-19 cases in SA as recovery rate continues to rise
27 August 2020, 9:31 PM

South Africa has recorded 2 585 new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, bringing the cumulative number of infections to 618 286.

Regrettably, the Department of Health has also reported 126 more COVID-19 related deaths, with KwaZulu Natal recording the highest number at 48, followed by Gauteng with 33; 25 from Eastern Cape and 20 from Western Cape.

This brings the death toll in the country to related deaths to 13 628.

The recovery rate, however, continues to be on the up, currently at 86% following 531 338 recoveries. This means the country currently has only 73 320 active cases.




COVID-19 infections

Meanwhile, officials at the World Health Organization said on Thursday, testing for COVID-19 infections and a fast turnaround for results are critical for controlling the pandemic, but broad-based population tests are not always useful.

Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the UN agency recommended suspected cases be tested and their contacts, if feasible, likewise, but the focus should be on people with symptoms.

Mike Ryan, head of its emergencies programme, noted that broad population testing programmes absorbed a large amount of resources.

The comments come after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that people exposed to COVID-19 but not symptomatic may not need to be tested, surprising doctors and politicians and prompting accusations the guidance was politically motivated. – Additional reporting by Reuters.

Cannabis drug testing remains a challenge in the workplace
27 August 2020, 7:37 PM

Recent changes in legislation which decriminalise cannabis use for adults in South Africa, have proven challenging for companies conducting drug-screening in the workplace.

Cannabis can be detected for up to four weeks by standard urine tests – the type most often used in a work environment. These tests, however, do not tell when the substance was used or whether the employee is impaired at the time of the test.

“I use cannabis products for assisting in pain management. I homegrow and smoke buds from the cannabis plant as well as CBD oil drops,” says one woman.

Despite the decriminalisation of cannabis, this woman remains concerned about what may happen if her employers decide to test her.

“It may affect what my employers think of me and my performance. I’m also concerned that it will impact my employment with the company as there is still a stigma with the use of cannabis products.”

Director of the labour consultancy firm, Labour Amplified, Jahni de Villiers says there are instances where personal cannabis use can be held against employees.

“If you use cannabis in the morning before you come to work, you are using that in your private time because you’re using that at home. But if that results in you being intoxicated in the workplace then an employer definitely can institute disciplinary action because your occupational health and safety legislation says very clearly that you cannot have a person in the workplace who is under the influence of a substance. Of any substance.”

She says regardless of the decriminalisation of cannabis, workplace policies and health and safety regulations remain applicable.

However, De Villiers says administering a drug-screening test from a local pharmacy is not enough.

“Cannabis testing is notoriously unreliable in the sense that cannabis can be detected in a person for 10 to 14 days after the person actually used it. But you definitely need to have a proper disciplinary inquiry, a proper investigation as to the circumstances. Did this person appear intoxicated? Did they operate heavy machinery and cause damage and did they test positive for cannabis? Because if you take all of those cumulatively, then it’s fair to institute a disciplinary action against a person.”

Head of forensic toxicology at the University of Pretoria, Professor Tim Laurens, says it’s important to have workplace policies that outline under what circumstances drug-testing will be administered, how the sample will be taken and what testing device will be used.

“Once a sample has been taken, a preliminary tests will be performed which gives you a yes or no answer, and there must be no decisive action based on this yes or no preliminary test result. There can be many other compounds in a human’s urine or oral fluid or saliva that can actually cross-react and cause a false positive test result. With the example of HIV medications and cannabis, that’s a typical example.”

Employees often find themselves under pressure to disclose their HIV-status in order to clear their name. This, says Laurens, is why confirmation tests must be performed by an accredited laboratory, and the results interpreted by a trained professional.

“That test result must go to the medical review officer, and not to the HR person, please. The HR person isn’t qualified to interpret these test results. So, once the medical review officer has evaluated the test results it will be given through to HR and only then decisive action may take place.”

Lourens says unlike screening tests, the confirmation test does not just give a positive or negative answer, but rather looks at the concentration of compounds in the sample, which can indicate how recently the substance was used.

Unfortunately, he adds, while South Africa has established thresholds that regulate the legal limit of alcohol in a person’s system, no such limits exist for cannabis.

“So, the word ‘under the influence’ is still applicable in our road traffic act as well, but there should be a threshold symbol. So, I hope that they will start crafting this legislation. Because we have different levels of impairment and the end result is intoxication. How do you define intoxicated? That is a really grey area.”

He says the concentration of cannabis in the test sample is a good indication of recent use, but it cannot predict the level of intoxication or impairment. This is why testing is just one stage of the inquiry.

De Villiers agrees.

“Every case needs to be looked at on its own merits. You can’t simply make a blanket rule that will be accepted in every single sector and every set of circumstances. You have to understand that your employees are human beings outside of the workplace and probably have a private life and they have things that they do outside of the workplace that they don’t necessarily bring to the workplace.”

She says one way to mitigate the risks is to have a voluntary disclosure programme with employees. Employers must also have comprehensive policies in place that are consistently applied, but employees must be cognisant of their responsibilities.

Hurricane Laura slams southwest Louisiana, killing at least one as it marches inland
27 August 2020, 6:21 PM

Hurricane Laura barreled through southwest Louisiana, destroying buildings in the city of Lake Charles and killing a 14-year-old girl after making landfall early on Thursday as one of the most powerful storms to hit the state.

The hurricane’s first reported US fatality was a 14-year-old girl in Leesville, Louisiana, who died when a tree fell on her house, a spokeswoman for Governor John Bel Edwards said.

“We do expect that there could be more fatalities,” the spokeswoman, Christina Stephens, said on Twitter.
Residents of Lake Charles heard Laura’s winds howling and the sound of breaking glass as the storm passed through the city of 78,000 with winds of 85 miles per hour (137 km per hour) and gusts up to 128 mph (206 kph) in the hour after landfall.

The windows of the city’s 22-floor Capital One Tower were blown out, street signs were toppled and pieces of wooden fence and debris from collapsed buildings lay scattered in the streets, video footage on Twitter and Snapchat showed.

Lake Charles resident Borden Wilson, a 33-year-old pediatrician, was anxiously anticipating his return home after evacuating to Minden, Louisiana.

“I never even boarded up my windows. I didn’t think to do that. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced. I just hope my house is fine,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Laura made landfall just before 1 a.m. as a Category 4 storm packing winds of 150 mph (240 kph) in the small town of Cameron, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

It rapidly weakened to a Category 2 storm Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph), and was forecast to become a tropical storm later in the day.

However, the NHC warned that the threat of a possibly deadly storm surge would continue along the Louisiana coast as Laura moved north and then northeast.

Cameron Parish, where Laura made landfall, has a population of just under 7,000 and is home to a national wildlife refuge. The marshland there is particularly vulnerable to a storm surge of ocean water.

“This is one of the strongest storms to impact that section of coastline,” said David Roth, a National Weather Service forecaster. “We worry about that storm surge going so far inland there because it’s basically all marshland north to Interstate 10. There is little to stop the water.”

The storm surge, which the NHC on Wednesday predicted would be “unsurvivable,” was still forecast to raise water levels up to 20 feet (6 meters) in parts of Cameron Parish on Thursday morning.

“This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm,” the NHC said on Thursday.

Besides threatening life, the storm slammed the heart of the U.S. oil industry, forcing oil rigs and refineries to shut down production.

The Port of Lake Charles remained closed as workers were unable to enter or exit the facility due to downed power lines and trees.

The port did not suffer significant flooding but power was out as of Thursday morning, manager of security and safety Ed Manint told Reuters. The harbor police were assessing the damage and would send a report to port administration, he said.



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