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First COVID-19 vaccine trial in SA begins
23 June 2020, 12:55 PM

The first participants in South Africa’s first clinical trial that seeks to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 will be vaccinated this week.

The first clinical trial in the country and on the continent for a COVID-19 vaccine was announced on Tuesday at a virtual press conference hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand.

Two-thousand people will form part of the country’s trials. The first group consists of 50 HIV negative people who will be vaccinated this week.

Later this month, another 1 900 will be added who will get a different and stronger dosage of the vaccine.

The test groups will be people aged between 18 and 65 years old.

Over 100 000 South Africans have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 1 900 have died since March when the President declared a state of disaster and national lockdown.

By 17 June 2020, South Africa contributed to 30% of all diagnosed cases and 23% of all coronavirus related deaths on the African continent.

These statistics emphasise the urgent need for prevention of COVID-19 on the continent.

Landmark moment for SA

Wits University is collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the South African trial.

Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University Shabir Madhi says, “This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by COVID-19.”

“We began screening participants for the vaccine trial last week and the first participants will be vaccinated this week,” adds Madhi.

Prior to launch, the study was subject to rigorous review and has been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and the Human Research Ethics Committee of the university.

Following public comment, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries approved import of the investigational vaccine for use in the trial.

In the video below, watch the launch of the vaccine trial:

SA participation in international trials

The vaccine is already being evaluated in a large clinical trial in the United Kingdom where more than 4 000 participants have already been enrolled.

Similar studies are about to start in Brazil, with an even larger study of the same vaccine of up to 30 000 participants is planned in the USA.

“It is essential that vaccine studies are performed in southern hemisphere countries, including in the African region, concurrently with studies in northern hemisphere countries,” says Professor Helen Rees, Chair of SAHPRA and Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.

“This allows evaluation of the efficacy and safety of candidate vaccines to be assessed in a global context, failing which the introduction of many life-saving vaccines into public immunization programmes for low-middle income countries frequently lags behind those in high-income countries.”

 

US companies seek to make history as testing for COVID-19 vaccines begins
23 June 2020, 10:26 AM

More than a dozen companies in the United States are hoping to make history as they have started testing possible vaccines for COVID-19.

The Trump administration, like other governments around the world, has determined the economy should reopen even though there’s still no cure; and it could still be many months before a vaccine is available.

Scientists at biotech company Novavax just outside of Washington DC are racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

They’ve worked on vaccines for other major health crises like Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

With the world watching, they understand there’s a tremendous amount of energy.

Chairperson of the Novavax Board Dr James Young says experts have been working tirelessly night and day.

“Everybody’s trying to speed this up as fast as possible. This is a super urgent priority for all the governments around the world, given the devastation being caused by this virus and most people see the vaccine as the key to getting out of this.”

In the video below, Sherwin Bryce-Pease reports on the ongoing work done to find a COVID-19 vaccine:

Trials being carried out

Novavax is currently carrying out phase one clinical trials on 130 adults in Australia.

Results are expected next month. They’ll then start trials on up to 4 000 thousand people in multiple countries, potentially including South Africa.

If trials prove effective, they’d ramp up production to make at least a billion doses next year.

Dr Young says: “We don’t see this as a US problem from our perspective, even though we’re a US-based company. We see it as a global problem and we’re trying to set up the infrastructure around the world to manufacture this vaccine.”

The Trump administration however hasn’t shown that same collaborative spirit with a winner takes all attitude.

The US government didn’t participate in a vaccine conference last month where world leaders raised more than $8-billion dollars for shared efforts.

But it has funded several individual companies, raising concerns it’s effectively buying support now to ensure Americans are vaccinated first.

At the University of Pittsburgh where the Polio vaccine was first discovered, researchers are focusing on a vaccine that is delivered using a dissolvable patch, called a micro needle array.

Professor Louis Falo of the university’s Medical Centre says: “The micro needle array is simply applied to the skin topically, pressed into place very shortly and then take off and thrown away, and the antigen is already delivered.”

President Donald Trump wants a vaccine before the end of the year.

Researchers at Harvard University have however warned that social distancing will need to continue until 2022 if a vaccine is not found soon.

– Report by Nick Harper 

 

PTA taxi operations back in full swing
23 June 2020, 9:05 AM

Taxi operations are back in full swing on Tuesday morning in Soshanguve, Erasmus, Mabopane and other parts of Pretoria.

Disgruntled taxi operators suspended services on Monday in Gauteng.

They didn’t agree with the government’s R1.1 billion COVID-19 relief fund.

They say it’s too little to cover for the losses they’ve incurred since the country went into lockdown in March.

The police and the army had to intervene after protesting taxi drivers blockaded roads with burning tyres and rocks:

In the video below, a disgruntled taxi driver shares his frustrations:

Negotiations still welcomed

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula told scores of taxi owners and drivers in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria on Monday, that government doesn’t have any funds left, but further negotiations are still welcomed.

Mbalula also pleaded with taxi drivers and owners to protest in a peaceful manner and to refrain from blocking roads.

A spokesperson for the Erasmus Akasia Taxi Association Petrus Sibiya says, “The taxis are running, but we are still busy negotiating with the Minister of Transport with our problems. But we are busy and we are working today while negotiations are continuing to resolve our issues.”

Sibiya says taxis have been running since 05:00 and will continue until midnight.

Commuters left stranded

Commuters across the north of Pretoria in the townships and other parts of the province were left stranded and were seen hitch-hiking in an attempt to access other means of transport to get to their destinations.

Taxi commuters in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, said the taxi strike will have dire consequences for their jobs.

Commuters said their bosses and companies will never understand that they didn’t have the means of transport to report for duty.

In the video below, commuters in Soshanguve share their frustrations over the unavailability of transport:

-Additional reporting by SABC News. 

Over 180 learners test positive for COVID-19 in Eastern Cape school
23 June 2020, 7:51 AM

More than 180 learners at the Makaula Senior Secondary School in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape have tested positive for coronavirus.

Health officials and social workers have been deployed to the school to start counselling learners, who will be informed of their test results on Wednesday morning.

Social workers believe that non-compliance with the COVID-19 regulations is at the root of the cluster infection at the school and its hostel.

Cases prompt closure of schools

Earlier this month, over 30 schools mostly in Buffalo City, had to close down as over 20 people tested positive for COVID-19.

Fifteen teachers, three learners and two non-teaching staff had tested positive.

Schools subsequently closed for deep cleaning and tracing.

Grade 7 and 12 learners returned to schools on the 8th of June and have since to comply with strict social distancing measures, sanitization, screening and the wearing of masks.

The Infographic below highlights South Africa’s back to school plan:

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-Additional reporting by SABC News. 

KZN fishermen granted sardine run permits under strict COVID-19 regulations
22 June 2020, 1:07 PM

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has issued guidelines to be followed by fishermen in KwaZulu-Natal with the sardine season in full swing.

Thirty individual and commercial right holders as well as 45 small-scale fishing cooperatives have been granted permits to catch sardines.

Department spokesperson Albi Modise says the guidelines are geared to ensure adherence to COVID-19 regulations, while allowing fishermen to earn a living.

“One of the measures is risk assessment. It is important that right holders regularly conduct risk assessment to update their operational procedures, also preventative measures by ensuring that there is temperature screening. Sanitizing of hands should also be part of the protocol for all crews before they enter the vessel and any crew member with temperatures above the 38 degrees or more should not be allowed in the vessel. In as far as personal protective clothing is concerned; right holders should provide all crew members with masks and sanitizers during the fishing operation.”

Public banned from sardine run

Meanwhile, members of the public have been banned from participating in the expected sardine run as COVID-19 regulations still prohibit people from swimming.

The Department of Environmental Affairs also warned that the shark safety gear has been lifted in preparation for the shoal.

Department spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya has requested fishermen to ensure that they have a valid permit at all times.

 

 

 

 

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