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Zimbabwe fuel prices more than double
24 June 2020, 11:09 AM

Zimbabwe’s fuel prices will go up by as much as 152% on Wednesday, the energy regulator said, after the government removed a fixed exchange rate in place since March.

Zimbabwe is already going through its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by high inflation, food and medical shortages.

The last time the southern African country saw a similar steep rise in fuel prices in January 2019, violent protests broke out, leaving as many as 17 people dead after a crackdown by the security forces.

The protests lead to the subsequent closure of banks, schools and businesses.

The price of petrol will go up to 71.62 Zimbabwe dollars (U.S. $1.25) per litre, from 28.96 Zimbabwe dollars previously, the regulator announced on Tuesday night.

The diesel price will now be 62.77 Zimbabwe dollars from 24.93 Zimbabwe dollars.

Zimbabwe began weekly foreign currency auctions on Tuesday in a bid to increase efficiency in the allocation of scarce U.S. dollars in the economy, ending a fixed exchange rate of 25 local dollars to the United States dollar, which had been in place since March 30.

The average exchange rate closed at 57.3582 Zimbabwe dollars to one US dollar after the first auction.

In the video below, Zimbabwean nationals took to the streets in protests last year and voiced their frustrations over fuel increases:

Supplementary budget should outline measures to save jobs: Cosatu
24 June 2020, 8:31 AM

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it expects Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to outline measures to save the jobs of South Africans amidst the severe economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses.

Mboweni is expected to table a supplementary budget on Wednesday.


Companies including the SABC, retailer Edcon and BidAir Services have announced plans to possibly retrench staff.

In the first quarter of this year, the unemployment rate has been reported at just over 30%, up from 29.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Some analysts say this could rise by as much as 50% in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Cosatu Spokesperson Sizwe Pamla says saving jobs must be a priority for both employers and government.

“We are hoping to hear how the Minister is planning to assist some of these companies that are struggling to keep afloat . Whatever assistance that these companies are going to be getting it has to be on condition that they are going to save jobs. Since the lockdown, we’ve already seen people retrenching and yet we know that the very same people are still going to come back and ask government for assistance. The economy isn’t just about the shareholders and the owners and the employers, but it also involves workers and so far we have not really been happy with the approach that government has had. Government has allowed many of these companies to proceed to retrench without really putting conditions with how the retrenchment process has to be managed.”

In the video below, CEO of Lehumo Investments Maudi Lentsoane outlines what to expect in the Finance Minister’s supplementary budget:

SA unemployment stats

In its Quarterly Labour Force Survey released on Tuesday, Stats SA data indicated that the number of employed persons decreased by 38 000 to 16.4 million.

The number of unemployed persons increased by 344 000 to 7 million in the first quarter of this year, compared to the fourth quarter last year.

The largest employment decreases were observed in the formal sector followed by the agricultural sector.

Agri Western Cape says it is looking forward to hearing what coordinated support government will be providing to the agriculture sector to deal with COVID-19 in Tito Mboweni’s supplementary budget announcement.

The organisation says compliance with lockdown regulations has proven to be a huge expense for farming producers.

Agri Western Cape CEO Jannie Strydom says the pandemic had an extremely negative impact on some parts of the agricultural industry which were not allowed to operate under level five of the lockdown.

-Additional reporting by Corbin August 

Unemployments stats (Text)

Aspen says it has enough capacity to meet SA’s dexamethasone demand
24 June 2020, 7:04 AM

Pharmaceutical giant Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd says it has enough capacity to produce sufficient supply of the Dexamethasone vaccine.

The drug has been proven effective in improving the likelihood of survival in patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

Aspen, South Africa’s biggest supplier of drugs, manufactures both the injectable and tablet forms of the drug mainly used for treatment of tumours, asthma and other respiratory ailments.

The Department of Health says government currently has a stock of 300 000 ampoules of dexamethasone and can secure supplies of the drug from local manufacturers.

Aspen says the drug would not burden government’s already-strained budget as the injectable version would cost around R10 while each tablet would cost around R2.

In the video below, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize speaks about the use of the drug to treat patients:

Western Cape gears up to use Dexamethasone

In its battle against COVID-19, the Western Cape says clinical protocols are already being delivered for the use of the drug.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says the department is immediately able to offer Dexamethasone to patients on ventilators or who are receiving oxygen.

The province, which is regarded as South Africa’s epicentre, currently sits at 53 512 coronavirus cases, with 1 536 recorded deaths.

The graphic below provides a complete overview of South Africa’s COVID-19 stats and breakdown per province:

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In the video below, the Western Cape outlines readiness for clinical trials:

-Additional reporting by SABC News. 

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 

 

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